From inspired to inspiring: WEGO teacher shares his passion with students


By Sasha Baumgartner, Editor-in-Chief

One conventional day in small-town Illinois, a young adult’s perspective on life transformed when he discovered a new passion for studying and teaching English.

As he was going through one of the most difficult transitional periods of his life (senior year of high school), a young Kyle Etheridge was welcomed into a new universe of expression and guidance through his incredible, inspirational English teacher, Ms. Becktold. On this regular – yet brilliant – day, a new version of Etheridge was born that would go on to invigorate and motivate his students, just as he once was. 

English teacher Kyle Etheridge. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Etheridge)

Etheridge grew up in the small town of Wyanet, population of 991.

“My dad would always make the dad joke where he would say, ‘Why not?’ And we would say, ‘It’s Wyanet,’ and it was never funny,” said Etheridge. 

Wyanet was so compact, it only included one elementary school, and so Etheridge had to drive to different towns to attend middle school and high school. In Etheridge’s community, there were not a good deal of college preparatory courses: students were either going to college and had planned to do so for for years, or they were headed to the factory.

For the first part of his life, Etheridge was not an English fanatic: contrarily, he was more interested and passionate about math and science.

“My grandma said I was always obsessed with space, so it was like in elementary school I really liked science, and then in middle school I liked math,” said Etheridge. 

It was not until he reached high school that Etheridge started to develop a proclivity for English. Etheridge saw how English could move people, and make a difference in this complex world. While interviewing him, Etheridge mentioned an English teacher he had in his senior year of high school who really made a difference in his career path. When he spoke of Becktold, he focused on the inspiration he gained from her – and the fire she lit within Etheridge to teach English.

“She taught Hamlet in a way that, it just reached out and grabbed you. You couldn’t do anything but engage in this text. And I just remember she was teaching one of his soliloquies, and she finished her lesson, and I was like, this was an experience. Like I can’t, this didn’t even feel like class, this is incredible, and I thought I want to do this for a living,” said Etheridge. 

Etheridge’s father, Stephen Etheridge, said, “I saw how Mrs. Becktold really steered him into this career path. He has earned everything he’s worked for. We are so proud of him and proud of who he is today.”

With an internal fire burning bright, and a dream to excite – just as his high school teacher did – Etheridge started attending classes at his local community college. After that, he headed to Canterbury, England and studied abroad at Canterbury Christ Church University for a semester. Upon returning to the United States, Etheridge attended Northern Illinois University to finish up his credits and earn his teaching license.

Graduation was a monumental day for Etheridge and his family: he described the experience as one of the most memorable of his life. Growing up was hard. By the time Etheridge reached high school, he was working full-time on top of attending school. He had to work while completing college, so there were days when it almost felt impossible to reach graduation, but he did.

Recalling that remarkable day, Etheridge said, “I just remember at NIU, the basketball arena is where they graduate, the congregation center, it’s huge! I remember going on the stage, shaking the president’s hand, and coming down, and I’m sitting in my chair, opening it, and looking at my degree with my name on it, in disbelief. And I look up, and there’s one person hanging over the railing in the top bull, and I’m like, ‘Who is that jack wagon?’ And I look, and it’s my dad, my dad is hanging over the rail, just giving me a thumbs up.” 

When Etheridge started working at West Chicago Community High School right after graduation, he was mentored by several teachers, including Amanda Cordes.

“She taught me – I would say as much or even more – about teaching than my two years at Northern Illinois University, and so I am beyond grateful for her. Wouldn’t be where I’m at without her,” said Etheridge.

The now eight-year teaching veteran can regularly be found calmly sipping his coffee on a Friday morning in a blue West Chicago Community High School t-shirt. Students and staff regard him highly, and he is often chosen as a “favorite” at end-of-year events.

Heidi Pereckas, a sophomore in Etheridge’s English 2 Honors class, said, “Etheridge is a teacher who can feel like your best friend and your educator which makes his class different from others. You can joke more and it doesn’t feel as strict of an environment as other classes, but work is still completed effectively.”

Now, Etheridge is working towards the goal of receiving his master’s degree. In his everyday life, Etheridge barely has a moment to spare, switching from an illuminating teacher and co-worker, to after-school tutor. Throwing in a few minutes for self-care, Etheridge somehow finds time for the exercise he enjoys.

English teachers Jamie Culen and David Jennings, who have been neighbors with Etheridge within the school building for some time now, were quick to comment on their coworker.

Jennings said, “Etheridge is one of the busiest people I know. From the time he arrives at 7:30 each morning until the start of first hour at 7:55, it’s not at all uncommon for him to have anywhere from five to ten students waiting for him. He’s great about meeting with and helping each of them, and then he dives into a full day of teaching. I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t one of the best teachers in the English department. Many juniors and seniors on the Enriched and AP tracks can tell you how much of their success is owed to the firm foundation he helped them pour in their freshman and sophomore honors classes. Dude rules.”

Jennings also spoke to Etheridge’s commitment: “After all of that, he somehow finds the energy to tutor students who need a little extra help after school, and go to grad school as a student himself. All I know is he drinks coffee like it’s his other full-time job, so that might actually have something to do with how he’s capable of so much. Just watching him talk to what seemed like ALL of the parents at open house this year made me want to take a nap.” 

Etheridge is a frequent winner in the school’s annual turkey suit contest, in which students vote for a favorite teacher to wear the costume for a day. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Etheridge)

“When I got hired at WEGO, I never thought I would be as good of friends with Mr. Etheridge than I am now,” said Culen. “He has turned into one of the best teammates I have ever worked with.  He not only has some amazing ideas, but he listens to his teammates’ ideas and includes everyone in on planning.  He is a leader in the best sense of the word.”

Throughout his years at the high school, Etheridge has been involved in various activities, and remains a four-time winner of the annual turkey fundraising contest that supports the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. As noted by his colleagues, Etheridge has helped to run the after-school English tutoring program. He also streams the school’s football games online. Additionally, students recently found Etheridge on the school’s Powder Puff game dance floor, sporting his divine moves and pushing himself to new limits. 

English teacher Shannon Sanchez said, “I love Mr. Etheridge.” 

From a small-town teenager with a big dream to an inspiring teacher with fiery passion, Etheridge has proven to West Chicago Community High School that he can make a difference.

“I am most proud of these letters on my wall here and even some of the pictures. It’s the students that grew the most in my class. Those students who needed to write me a letter about how far they’ve gone since leaving my class. That’s what makes me feel the most proud,” said Etheridge.