Mr. Austin: An Exposé

Mr. Austin and "Peach"

Maurice Austin with fellow Dalton Hotshots firefighter “Peach” / Contributed Photo

At our school, Mr. Austin might be the teacher whose history and personal life is surrounded by mystery, so the chance to interview him was too good to pass up.

Austin’s most pressing piece of wisdom is that life’s plans do not always come to pass. During high school, he took classes like AP Biology and AP Physics that set him up for a science career, specifically in biology. After high school, he ended up starting college at Western Washington University in Bellingham. Because he had already taken these classes in high school, his college schedule lacked science classes, and was filled with social studies and language arts – with which he soon fell in love.

Nine years after high school, Austin ended up with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a whole lot of experience elsewhere. It took him nine years because, during those years, he was not always in college. He was also building trails, working aquaculture in Norway, and fighting fires across the western U.S., including spending two years as a Dalton Hotshot. He started firefighting at 17 years old when he joined a Washington crew. At that age, he was not allowed to help stop forest fires, so he had to wait until his birthday in an empty station while the rest of the crew was out. He says he sharpened every shovel in the county because he had nothing better to do.

He was brought into teaching after college. He had been advancing his writing skills by going to poetry readings in Bellingham, both to listen and share. Eventually, he gave some of his writing to his friend who was a teacher. That teacher recommended a teaching job that had opened up, so Austin took it and soon had a single language arts class. He continued teaching, and after a few years, he heard about a job opening on Orcas. When he arrived, he had two interviews and some time in between, so he went canoeing at Cascade Lake. He got the job and has been our teacher for 19 years. His life seems like a far cry from the one he imagined leading in high school, and we could not be happier to have him here teaching at OHS.