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For David Leventhal, the coronavirus pandemic hit during an already challenging time. A nontraditional student, Leventhal returned to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to pursue a master’s degree in secondary education and teaching during midlife with a young child to support and a mortgage to pay.

David Leventhal in graduation regalia stands next to his framed Master of Secondary Education degree.
David Leventhal in graduation regalia stands next to his framed Master of Secondary Education degree.

Completing his master’s degree meant spending an entire year as an unpaid intern teaching at Gresham Middle School and Maryville High School. He applied for mortgage forbearance during that time, expecting to graduate with an offer of employment. However, the educational sector was completely upended when COVID-19 hit, and Leventhal’s prospects disappeared.

At that point, UT’s Student Emergency Fund and Center for Career Development and Academic Exploration helped him navigate the situation to reach a positive outcome. He has since graduated, found full-time employment, and caught up with his mortgage.

“I really can’t underestimate how helpful and timely the emergency funding was, as well as the career development center,” Leventhal said. “The opportunities that I got were amazing. As disappointing and troubling as 2020 has been, it never ceases to amaze me how something good will happen that just keeps me going.”

Today Leventhal is a full-time social studies teacher with Tennessee Connections Academy, an entirely online public school available to students in Tennessee. His pay and benefits are on par with what he would earn in a brick-and-mortar school, and he’s able to teach from Knoxville. That is crucial for Leventhal because his daughter and her mother live locally.

Leventhal’s path to his current role has taken a number of turns. Originally from Atlanta, he completed his undergraduate degree in philosophy and religious studies at Appalachian State University in 2001. He came to UT and completed a master’s degree in history in 2007. After graduation, he operated a restaurant marketing and delivery business for five years before moving into the information technology sector. He’s also been a banjo and ukulele instructor and taught college-level history.

Now, as a high school teacher, Leventhal wants to bring all of those skills to bear in his social studies instruction. When he was a history student he spent time learning geographic information systems (GIS) because, he said, “as a history teacher, you can’t ignore geography. Everything happens at a time and place.”

GIS can be extremely versatile and allow for data to be overlayed onto maps. One project Leventhal worked on at UT involved correlating a dataset of blighted potato harvests and grain exports during the Irish Potato Famine with statistics on emigration to the United States.

“It was very clear the hardest-hit counties were in the western part of Ireland, and that’s where people emigrated from,” Leventhal said. “When you factor in the folk music and stringed instruments, a picture starts to emerge that connects to our life today.”

Leventhal would like to start a geography club at his school and potentially a GIS club. He wants the subject matter to be relevant to his students. With a bright future as an educator ahead of him, Leventhal reflects positively on the good fortune he has enjoyed during an extremely complicated time.

“My new work with a K–12 virtual public education academy has shown me how to grow as an educator and build my resume while also earning the same compensation as my brick-and-mortar colleagues,” Leventhal said. “I am forever indebted to the University of Tennessee, in more ways than I could ever quantify—and indeed it’s great to be a Tennessee Vol!”

CONTACT:

Gerhard Schneibel (865-974-9299, gschneib@utk.edu)