By Greta Klein
Staff writer

As we look around at each other and examine one another’s lives, it may seem like someone has a “perfect” life when really they are having a tough time.

Rob Yates, a speech professor at Hutchinson Community College, is someone who has overcome adversity in his life.

Yates was born in Hutchinson and grew up in a firefighter family.

“My dad was a firefighter (and) my grandpa was a fire inspector.” Yates said. “I grew up running around station 1 learning how to cause all kinds of hell for the firefighters.”

After the passing of his grandfather, Yates’ father made a big life change.

“For better or worse, mostly worse for me, he decided to become a preacher.” Yates said. “Which was about as different as you can get from a cultural place, going from a bunch of firefighters to a church.”

His father’s job as a preacher led his family to move to Ohio when he was sixteen.

“Foundationally (it was) a huge life switch,” Yates said. “I went from thinking I would spend my whole life in Kansas, with a bunch of people I really liked and (was) invested in, and now I have to start over completely in a tiny town my junior year.”

Despite not wanting to move to Ohio, Yates found one thing he enjoyed there, music.

“That was the one benefit to being in Ohio in the late 90s was definitely the heart of the garage band, pop punk movement,” Yates said. “Luckily I had a chance to play with a lot of those guys and do a lot of touring.

Even though Yates didn’t want to move, it gave him experiences that he will never forget.

“The best part about it was building my creative future and I definitely wouldn’t be here teaching if I hadn’t done that,” Yates said.

Still staying in Ohio, Yates got married and had kids young.

He spent several years working for a local man at a video game business while he was living in Ohio.

Deciding to come back to Kansas to start his business, Yates opened his own video game store and managed that for years.

Being a business owner in Kansas at the time, Yates received a grant. Using this money, he made the decision to return to college and attend HutchCC.

“As much as it pains me to say as a professor here, I was not one of those students who got through HCC in two years,” Yates said. “I was here for like seven years, or something like that. I took a lot of extra classes but I also failed a lot of classes and took them over because I didn’t show up.”

Thinking he would never be able to graduate, he finally did.

“Finally, one day I got my two year degree that gave me the confidence I could get a 4 year degree,” Yates said. “So I went to the teaching college and then got my teaching license, and started teaching high school.”

Many people have their reasons for wanting to go into teaching. For Yates, his reason was different.

“I just didn’t know what the hell else to do at that point,” Yates said. “I just knew I didn’t want to work in a factory and I hated manual labor and that kind of thing. Maybe that makes you a better person but it isn’t for me, I just don’t like that kind of labor.”

Once Yates got his teaching license, he realized that teachers quit for many reasons but for him, those reasons didn’t scare him off as an educator.

“A lot of people go into (teaching) because of whatever their reason is but a ton of people scrub out,” Yates said. “People don’t realize this about teaching college but however many people go in, you’re only gonna end up having 25% left.”

For many educators, teaching can be stressful and comes with a lot of work and responsibilities. That can either inspire teachers or scare them off.

“A lot of people quit, can’t do it, they have to teach in a classroom for the first time or they walk in front of a bunch of students who make fun of them and they freak out,” Yates said. “But that’s when I realized that I loved it, it didn’t bother me. 

Yates was unintimidated by the world of teaching but knew what grades he could and couldn’t manage.

“I liked working with students, especially older students,” Yates said. “I can’t stand grade school kids at all. I liked teaching high school.”

Yates was fond of working with high school students but needed a change financially and started doing higher education.

“High school was great to teach when I was closer to their age,” Yates said. “As I got older, that age of adolescence started to annoy me. Even though it seems like a small difference, there’s a huge difference. I like working with young people but young people that are starting the next phase of their life.”

Deidre Mattox, the director of theater at Hutchinson Community College, knows Yates on a personal and professional level.

“He’s compassionate, open minded, creative, and cool,” Mattox said. “He’s one of the cool new teachers.”

Mattox and Yates have worked together on plays and other events in the theater department at HutchCC. Seeing how Yates interacts with others is something that Mattox describes as personable.

“He draws people in with his laid back attitude,” Mattox said. “So he’s approachable. I’ve never seen him teach before but I imagine he must establish a very open environment where everybody feels comfortable to be creative and explore new ideas.”

Even Yates’ students agree to his open mindedness and classroom as a judgment free zone.

“I think he understands what’s truly important and doesn’t make unnecessary things a big deal or part of our class,” Colin Cymbalista, a sophomore at HutchCC said. “I think he also does a really good job (of) making the class a fun learning space especially in public speaking where he makes talking to everyone more normal which removes most of the stress with giving speeches.”

Makenzee Monroy, a freshman at HutchCC, talks about how Yates isn’t like other teachers she’s had.

“There are multiple things that make Yates different but one of the most important qualities he has is that he cares,” Monroy said. “When he asks about your weekend or checks on you, he genuinely listens. He is not just here teaching you for a paycheck, he is here to make a difference, and he IS.”

Everyone has something that motivates them throughout the day of life. For Yates, it’s about believing in yourself.

“I think the most important thing for me to always have students or anyone understand is they can do this,” Yates said. “The most valuable thing to me every single day when I come here is knowing I have keys to a building that I sat in for 7 or 8 years not thinking I could get one degree so if I can do this and be here then anybody can.”

Yates understands that some days may be more difficult than others but you have to preserve.

“I think just remembering to do your best and realizing your best another day might be better than that is fine,” Yates said. “You have to give yourself grace and keep moving.”

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