Reading All the Way
“When the Lord prompts you, you follow.” This has been the lesson for John E. Jacobson (BS ’75, MEd ’78, EdS ’83, EdD ’90). As a teacher, a principal, a professor, and a dean, Jacobson's career in education has taken him and his family from their home in Utah to places they never imagined—Texas, Kansas, and Indiana. But as they learned to follow the voice of the Lord, they have found joy and success along the way.
After earning a BA and MA in education from BYU, Jacobson was a principal at Sage Creek Elementary in Springville, Utah, and loving it. As principal, Jacobson was approached by a friend and BYU professor who asked to do literacy research in one of Jacobson’s classrooms. After observing the professor and his work in the classroom all year, it became clear to Jacobson that his own real interest was in reading and literacy. So, following a prompting from the Lord, Jacobson left his PhD program in educational administration at the University of Utah and transferred to BYU, changing his PhD emphasis to reading. Jacobson says that choice changed his life. “I found it fascinating, this philosophy of how children will come to literacy in natural ways, in very meaningful and relevant ways,” Jacobson relates. “Providing children with the right contexts and support, with lots of books and a print-rich environment, many children come to literacy in a natural way.”
Just because Jacobson felt guided to that choice didn’t make it easy. At one point, serving in a bishopric, working full time, earning a doctorate, and helping raise five children, Jacobson remembers feeling overwhelmed. “Psychologically, I was just so stressed . . . [But] I thought, ‘I'm going to be okay. Just rely on the Lord and keep plugging away.’ I think the lesson of life is that, when things get most challenging, that's when a lot of the growth takes place in our lives. A plane takes off or a kite takes off against the wind, not with the wind. Often you see life coming at you in ways that make you think, ‘Can I take one more step?’ The answer is ‘yes.’ As you do that, you do grow.”
After earning his PhD, Jacobson and his family felt another change coming. Although perfectly happy where they were in Springville, Utah, Jacobson and his wife encouraged the whole family to pray about what the next step in their lives should be. “We decided that we would put this in the hands of the Lord. I would go out and interview. If He wanted us to stay there, we would stay there. If not, lead us to where he wanted us. He took us to Texas.”
Following that counsel from the Lord was the best thing they could have done. At the University of Texas at Arlington, Jacobson was given the opportunity to be a both a professor and an associate dean. But even more importantly, Jacobson says that he and his family were blessed to be able to serve in the Church and to grow closer together. “We were very involved with our family. The family life was fabulous.”
Since then, Jacobson has been instrumental in securing funds to further research and development projects in education, not just in Texas, but in Indiana, where he and his wife live now. He has helped to obtain more than $36,000,000 in grants for a variety of projects in literacy, early education, and teacher preparation.
Now, Jacobson is looking forward to retirement and a mission for the Church. He and his wife Marsha still seek to counsel with the Lord in all that they do. “I think just listening to the Spirit and making decisions involving the Spirit in making decisions is a lifelong lesson . . . my wife and I relied on the Lord to be guided by the Spirit in making decisions.”