Paul Jones Sager graduated from BYU in 1964 and started his first teaching assignment in a fifth grade classroom in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After two years of teaching he attended graduate school at Washington State University and earned his master’s degree in education with an emphasis in children’s literature. He then moved to Ukiah, California, where he taught fifth and sixth grade. He was offered a position as a principal, but declined because he felt he could reach students on a more personal level by remaining a teacher. “I loved working with the Native American children in Ukiah in the late 1960s. They had modest financial means, but were extremely enthusiastic learners and would often exceed everyone’s expectations,” Sager recalled.
Sager’s next move was to Washington State, where he taught fifth grade in the Mukilteo School District for the next 20 years.
Sager said he always tried to improve the lives of his students. For example, he introduced new math teaching concepts to his district. While teaching fifth grade he started a project launching helium balloons with messages attached to them. The balloons traveled for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles, and Sager was able to teach his students about wind direction and flow at different altitudes and to explore ways the wind affects weather and travel. The students would attempt to predict how far the balloons would go and then would record on a map their final destinations. Sager was the first in his district to introduce building and launching model rockets as part of the study of aerodynamics.
For the last seven years of his teaching career, Sager was an elementary school librarian in the Mukilteo School District. As a librarian he was able to create enthusiasm for reading and motivate his students to increase their reading time. “Instilling in students a love of reading was one of the most important teaching successes I had,” said Sager. He taught a total of 33 years, retiring in June of 1997.
Sager recalled that his experiences at BYU in the college of education taught him important teaching techniques, including the use of children’s literature and methods for curriculum planning. He also gained a love for teaching as well as a desire to connect with students who seem difficult to reach.
To new teachers Sager advised, “Always show your students that you care. When I was a teacher, at Christmas time I would write a letter to each student detailing their attributes and the things I could see they would attain if they persisted in their education. I have found those letters meant more than I realized.” The grandfather of one of Sager’s students wrote a newspaper article describing how important Sager’s Christmas letter had been to his grandchild.
Sager’s son Edward, who had been one of his father’s math students, recalled meeting a 30-year-old woman who had attended the school where Sager taught. After almost 20 years she recalled feeling left out because she hadn’t been in Mr. Sager’s class. She said, “All the kids thought he was the ‘coolest teacher’ in the fifth grade.” Edward said of his father, “He was one of the most giving teachers I have ever known. I do not have sufficient room to write about the many things I remember about my father’s teaching and his caring acts towards his students. He made a difference in their lives.”