Auburn student-athlete Jonathan Wallace graduates from the College of Education

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Before playing in his last football game as an Auburn Tiger, Jonathan Wallace celebrated his biggest win: becoming an Auburn graduate as he proudly walked across the stage Dec. 12 in the Auburn Arena with the College of Education.

Wallace, the offensive captain of the 2015 football team, has been highlighted as one of Auburn Athletics main spokespersons throughout his senior year.

In July, Wallace and Aubie starred in Auburn’s video thanking the second grade scholars from Chicago’s Schmid Elementary for their viral video showing their love for Auburn. And in September, he was honored for his community service as a member of the Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Hands Team for the work he does with local schools, the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, among many other activities.

So who is the man behind the accolades? To his fellow students, advisors and professors, he is Jonathan Wallace, kinesiology student. Wallace is graduating with a degree in teacher education-physical education and has enrolled in Auburn’s graduate school, possibly considering the College of Education’s Adult Education program. According to Wallace, his heart for service and will to work came to him early.

“For starters, my grandfather, father and siblings all went to Central High School in Phenix City,” he said. “I learned a lot at that place and from so many people. One of them was my first grade teacher, Ms. Spencer, who has known me my whole life. She knew I wanted to go into something like physical therapy and that I wanted to coach, so she suggested that I work toward certification through one of Auburn’s teacher education programs. That’s how I ended up in the School of Kinesiology.”

Wallace also learned a lot about life and leadership from two of his coaches at Central, Ron Nelson and Woodrow Lowe.

“I looked up to both of them and spent a lot of time talking to them about how I could impact my teammates in a positive way,” he said. “There were just so many good influences around me growing up.”

As his playing days and college courses both come to a close, Wallace has held teaching internships at Cary Woods Elementary and Auburn Junior High schools. One thing never changed: The days are long.

“I get to school early every morning, work until mid-afternoon and then come in for football practice until about 6 p.m.,” he said. “I’m done with my classes, but I still go in and watch game film and work to keep my body strong and fresh for the games on Saturdays. Sometimes I still wish I was in class, because at school we are always on the go, especially at the junior high, for seven or eight hours.”

Wallace said there are upsides to teaching both elementary and adolescent children.

“At Cary Woods, they just really look up to you and want to try hard to do right in class,” he said. “At the junior high, the students are starting to develop and figure out who they are and what to do with their lives. It takes some time to get a feel for different kids and what kind of approach might work best for each of them. It’s really very similar to understanding what makes a team click.”
Wallace said experiencing Auburn from “inside” the football program has been extraordinary, but that in other respects, he feels like many other Auburn students.

“Make no mistake about it,” he said. “Being a part of this team has been great, one of the greatest things you could ever imagine. All the fans and students who come to Tiger Walk and tailgate are, in the end, coming to see me play. That’s my world, so it’s different in that way. But Auburn also has the feel of a family atmosphere. People I meet and know actually care about me as a person and what happens to me. People want to see you succeed as an Auburn student, whether you are a player or not. So in that way I feel like just another member of the Auburn Family.”

Professors, advisors influential

The faculty and staff in the School of Kinesiology have been important to Wallace’s development over the past few years.

“I have really enjoyed classes with Dr. Sheri Brock, learning about motor skills and how to work with kids with disabilities,” he said. “She has helped me think about how I can get them to enjoy PE classes in spite of their disability. Everyone is different, so I always have to do a little special coaching or teaching, including for those kids who must have a different way to perform in class.”

He has also benefitted from the international experiences of Professor Peter Hastie.

“Dr. Hastie has traveled all over the world studying how to teach sports and essentially how to get people involved in movement through games,” Wallace said. “One of the things I enjoyed about him was the way he shared the games children play all over the world. In the end, it’s all about movement and I found that all very engaging.”

The lessons learned on campus helped Wallace’s transition to teaching this semester.

“Getting out there and working with the kids has been a very positive experience,” he said. “I had a good academic grounding, but the day-to-day experience showed me how important PE really is to the larger framework of learning and being healthy.”

One of the people who has worked most closely with Wallace in the School of Kinesiology is academic advisor Robin Martin, who was recently selected to receive Auburn’s Outstanding Advisor Award for Professional Advisors.

“Since the first day he walked in my office, Jonathan has been prepared and ready to go,” said Martin. “Teacher education majors have a lot of checkpoints and hoops to jump through to satisfy the requirements for their certification, and even with his busy extracurricular schedule Jonathan has always been on the ball. He is just a clean-cut, great guy. His smile lights up a room and he’s somebody you just want to be around. He has been extremely focused on his major and being able to work with kids and be a mentor to them like those he has been fortunate to have. He is so deserving of all the good things that are coming his way, and I am so incredibly proud of him.”

Although Wallace doesn’t see himself as a hero, he knows the school children he is with every day see him as someone special.

“They are watching you every minute,” he said of his internship at the area schools. “If you step out of line they are going to act out. I just try every day to model good character and attentiveness during class. I challenge the kids to do four things: be responsible, be respectful, be prepared and be safe. I hold them to that standard and challenge them to bring that every day while still having fun.”

As Wallace contemplates life as an Auburn grad, he knows he will be working next year as a graduate assistant with Coach Gus Malzahn. But he has also been talking with Professor James Witte about the College’s Adult Education graduate program.

“I asked Dr. Witte how the program would prepare me to achieve my ultimate goal of being a teacher and a coach,” Wallace said. “He said the program would help me learn to think, learn to speak and learn to write. He said these are the things you really need to be able to do in this world of change, no matter what field you are in. I really like that concept.”
Wallace feels strongly about the nobility of the teaching profession and the importance of education.

“You’ve got to have education,” he said. “I certainly would not be where I am without my many teachers and coaches and the support of my family. I really believe in the saying that ‘it takes a village.’ That was true in my elementary, junior high and high school years. And now at Auburn, I am just another part of a larger village, a great village. In my life, I want to go on from village to village and share with others what has been shared so generously with me.”

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