Squeaking by with barely passing grades, Glen Warren never imagined he'd have a career as an educator until he entered high school and met mentors who turned his life around.
"I was lost in a machine. It was very impersonal," Warren recalled of his early years in the classroom when he had a high D average. While he found interest in extra-curricular activities like music, he did not feel a connection to school or learning.
His grades and his life changed when he started attending Montgomery High School in Princeton, N.J., where he met an English teacher, Mrs. Warren, who was of no relation. He was also taken under the wing of the school's principal and the campus counselor.
"I remember getting into trouble and, instead of serving detention, they asked me to play jazz piano for a tea party for the elderly on campus," Warren said. "This was so amazing because they tapped into my love and passion. It changed my life and opened my eyes to the power of education."
Together, these educators found a way to integrate Warren's passion for music with his schoolwork, which in turn inspired him to earn an A average in all subjects — and later, two master's degrees.
Today, as the technology teacher librarian at McPherson Magnet School in Orange., Warren incorporates the same philosophy with students from kindergarten through the eighth grade.
"I honor not only the required curriculum but the desired curriculum — what the child desires to learn," said Warren, who is also the vice president of the California School Library Assn. "Students are graded on how they learn, not just what they learn."
Warren recalls a time when two of his students were braiding each other's hair in the library instead of being on task. He saw an opportunity for learning, not punishment. He suggested they research hair braiding, devise a list of 20 questions they had on the subject and complete a training video for dads on how to braid their daughters' hair.
"They're supported in what they choose to learn and read and think about," said Warren, who was named Orange County Teacher of the Year in 2014.
"I want them to be equipped to pursue not only what's in their mind but also what's in their heart," he said. "I also want students to be resilient from being swayed by people's thinking or opinions or beliefs that would maybe turn them towards something harmful and destructive. I want them to be critical thinkers in everything."
Warren thrives on the motto "What matters to you matters."
"My mentors in high school were so out of the box. They found ways to value me as an individual learner," he said. "My quest for my classroom and the state and this country is for us to have a group of citizens who are information literate. We want to be a society that can think and reason together. I want to equip my kids to that end."