McKay alum defies early criticism as he nears 40 years in seminary education.
Brimming with confidence, Michael Roberts gathered his notes and prepared to present his first seminary lesson for evaluation. Positions in the Church Education System (CES) were highly competitive, but he wasn’t discouraged. He eagerly delivered his lesson, illustrating his points through verses of scripture, carefully-crafted examples, and engaging stories. As he concluded, he looked up at his evaluator and waited for his well-deserved praise. “You’ll last three weeks,” the evaluator said frankly.
This is not how Roberts imagined his teaching career would begin. But he was determined it would not be the way it would end.
Roberts, a McKay School alumnus and Utah native, was appointed last year as the Utah Valley South Adaptive Institute Director, the latest of various CES-related positions he’s held spanning the last four decades. His first major teaching assignment was in a one-man seminary in Green River, Wyoming in 1977. Remembering that first evaluator comment, he was determined to prove it wrong.
“When I arrived, I got a calendar and began marking it to see if I could last longer than three weeks,” Roberts said. “Three years later, [the same evaluator] came up to interview an elementary school principal who was teaching seminary part time and wanted to teach fulltime. I asked him if he remembered me, and he said he interviews every teacher hired, so no. I said with a smile, ‘when you first interviewed me you said that I wouldn’t last three weeks. I just want you to know it’s been three years.”
After four years in Wyoming, Roberts returned to Utah to earn a master’s degree in education from the McKay School, specializing in counseling psychology and special education. The knowledge and experience he gained in this program helped prepare him for future assignments as an administrator in programs working with youth corrections, sex offenders, and a variety of other areas.
In his current position Roberts has opportunities to work with students who have special educational needs. He related how he feels these experiences have been tailor-made for him and for his teaching staff.“When you’re with someone who can’t speak, who can’t move, who’s just stoically there, whose only way to communicate is to blink, you become personally invested,” Roberts said. “You say, ‘I want to communicate [with that child]!’”
“I can say earnestly that I go to work happy and I come home happy,” he continued. “I’m approaching 40 years in my career. Same job, same career. Go to work happy, come home happy. No ulcers, no nothing.”
Eight years ago, Roberts had one final opportunity to meet the evaluator who challenged him to improve in his teaching all those years ago. A special meeting was being held for seminary and institute teachers in Salt Lake City, attended by Elder Boyd K. Packer, a former seminary teacher now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. After the meeting all of the teachers were invited to dinner in the conference center. Through the crowd Roberts caught a glimpse of the evaluator who had critiqued his first lesson and failed to recognize him the last time they had met—in Wyoming more than 30years ago. Roberts smiled and made his way through the crowd to speak with the evaluator one more time.
Roberts sat down beside the evaluator, shook his hand, smiled, and posed the same question he had at their last meeting. “Do you remember me?” he asked. “I just wanted you to know, it’s been 30 years.”
Roberts resides in Provo, Utah with his wife, Karen, and nine children. He is currently the bishop of a young single adult ward and enjoys writing children’s books.