Amy Roter on Asking "Why Not?" and Exploring Morocco

Noodle Expert Amy Roter talks about the importance of asking "Why not?" and the cultural differences she encountered in Morocco.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

I struggled the most to answer this question. Do I know about anyone’s life enough to be able to say that I want that person to teach me for a year? I thought about past professors I have had who are well-versed in counseling others, or writers and poets who have influenced my life, but I settled on taking the year to develop a skill I love but do not dedicate enough time to: dance.

If I could have a person teach me for a year, I would choose Sonya Tayeh, choreographer on "So You Think You Could Dance." Ms. Tayeh’s ability to demonstrate the prowess of women through her choreography, along with her impeccable ear for music that is sure to find an emptiness or need otherwise hidden within her listeners, makes her unique and extremely talented. Under her direction, I would be in stellar shape, and learn to excel in an emotional expression that goes beyond words.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

“Why not?” has been the one little question that has had a major impact on my life. I do not mean asking others this question. I learned to acknowledge what I wanted out of life, and although I used to allow those thoughts to come and go without much action, I began to ask myself, “why not?” and make an actual plan to execute those desires I had. As a result, my life is overflowing with wonderful challenges, and when I have a time (or make the time) to stop and think of all I have done, I never regret asking this little question because my life would be quite empty if I hadn’t.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

I think it would have to depend on the student, since every person has different preferences and needs, but the trip that impacted me the most was definitely backpacking through Morocco when I was in college. A friend and I took a ferry from Spain to Tangier, and once we got off the ferry, the culture shift was undeniable. Goats were being walked like dogs; women, appearing enormous but for their tiny heads, transported tons of clothing by draping themselves and hence morphing into small-headed giants.

When we settled into a five star hotel that was five dollars a day (and included breakfast), our room overlooked the center square where vendors left their goods unattended overnight. And for thirty dollars, we ventured on a three-day tour that included a camel ride into the Sahara dessert during a sand storm where we camped out. Experiencing this immersion into a totally foreign world was an experience fraught with me thinking “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” and was a week of my life that I will never forget.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

When I first started college, I handed in a paper that probably would have been considered an “A” in high school. Often, my high school teachers would reward me with A’s for ideas, and make little to no mention about my grammar or structure. In college, however, I earned a C. My paper, decorated with red ink, challenged my identity as a writer and an intellectual. I could not blame my teacher for “not liking me,” a rationale I had used previously. In this case, the teacher did not know me (not to mention the fact that my parents were no longer around to hear me complain in such a way).

I stored this experience in the back of my mind, and sure enough, when other papers were due, I no longer received those A’s that I so easily obtained in high school. Finally, I had a midterm paper in my Romantic to Modern English Literature class. I adored this professor who refused to give busy work or take attendance. My entire grade was resting upon two papers. I wanted to show him and myself that I could earn an A if I put my mind to it. So, I did something I had never done before: I edited my work! I wrote and rewrote my paper many times and even took it to the Writing Center on campus for feedback. The result? I was not up all night the night before, shoving my thoughts onto a page, and I earned an A+! These accumulating lessons taught me the reward given for true hard work, and I use this lesson consistently throughout my life.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

Eleven years ago, I became an English teacher because I know how difficult adolescence can be, and I love literature, so I wanted to help students think about who they are and understand what they are going through by utilizing the stories we were reading. I learned that my true passion, however, was getting to know my students and helping them navigate through this stage in their lives, not teaching them grammar and giving them grades. I thought, "Maybe I should really be counseling." Then I thought, "Nah, you can’t switch careers now." But I remembered to challenge that voice and ask myself, "Why not?" That was when I went back to school for a second masters in counseling.

This September, I became the anti-bullying specialist and the in-school suspension teacher, and I love it! I am able to work with students everyday and find out what is going on with them and figure out ways to help them get to where they want to be. During this year, I have helped with organization, career counseling, college applications, school and home stress, and anti-bullying education. I am very lucky to say that I love my job and I feel like I am doing what I always knew I was meant to do; it just took me a while to get there!

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