Stephan Sanford
Physical Education Teacher and Coach, Northview Middle School, Ankeny, Iowa
Stephan Sanford

Role model

Stephan realized he had an unusual connection with kids—they gravitated toward him and listened to him—and that’s why he felt called to teach, coach and mentor the next generation. Now he spends his days helping teens keep fit while blasting everything from today’s hits to the oldies, earning him the teacher-nickname “DJ Sanford.”

What does your job involve?
I teach physical education, health, and strength and conditioning classes at Northview Middle School. I am also a varsity defensive back football coach. As a coach, I want to help shape young men into great people for the world. And I’m a mentor because that’s why God called me to be a teacher in the first place. I take my roles very seriously because they have a direct influence on my students.

How well did Northwestern prepare you for your teaching career?
I learned to write great PE lesson plans, which has helped me to see what could go wrong ahead of time so I can teach it better and establish rules to prevent injury. In my health classes, I’ve been well equipped to assess student progress and ensure the class is grasping the material before moving on and possibly leaving some behind.

This kind of instruction not only leads to better test scores, but it also contributes to student retention and their joy in sharing with their parents what they’ve learned. There’s nothing better than meeting a random parent who says, "Are you Mr. Sanford? The one that has my child excited to read nutritional facts on the side of cereal boxes?"

What things do you appreciate most about your Northwestern experience? 
I really appreciated my athletic career and teammates. If I had to say what I appreciate the most about my experience, it would be Northwestern’s location. Growing up east of Los Angeles, I was surrounded by gangs, drugs and violence. There were a thousand things to do, but it was more like a thousand ways to get in trouble. So for me, being in a small town enabled me to be far away from distractions so I could stay focused on my studies and athletics. The community was so loving, and I could volunteer and get involved with the youth. 

How would you describe Northwestern professors?
Northwestern professors are real, caring people. I remember a professor telling me she wouldn’t let me fail. That meant the most to me, because my whole life, all I’d known was failure. So the way I heard it come out of her mouth was, “I won’t let you be the norm; I won’t let you be another statistic; I won’t let you give up on yourself.”

Since graduation, many of my professors have stayed in contact with me, which has inspired me to keep in touch with my own students. I try to see a game at their university or get coffee with them when they’re in town. The example of Raider fellowship set by my professors has helped me build meaningful relationships with others.

In which ways did your faith grow at Northwestern?
My faith grew a lot during my time at Northwestern. A verse that I live by is Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” After having to be independent growing up, Northwestern helped me take a leap of faith and trust God to fight for me instead of doing everything myself.