He sits in his brand-new classroom, looking every inch the stereotypical History teacher. It’s been 30 years since he dropped out of Moriarty High School and got a GED, and it’s been seven years since he started college.
The Moriarty native spent 30 years on the radio, and when he talks, his distinctive voice has the familiarity of those broadcasters who become household names. On the radio, he was known as Donnie Chase, and Donnie June. In the classroom, he’ll be Mr. Daugherty to his students.
Daugherty’s road to the classroom took a winding path. He said he dropped out of school after being bullied—in part for his voice, in part for being gay—and with the help and encouragement of his mother, took the test for a GED. He was 16, and at times thought about suicide. The GED was issued in 1992, the year his class graduated.
The suicide of a close family member a short time later changed the way he thought about suicide forever, Daugherty said. “You see the ripple effect that it causes in the family,” he said, adding that they worried even over “someone having a bad day” as a result.
His career path included stand-up comedy before at 20 he started doing traffic reports on the radio, which he described as “a way to get a seat at the table.” Over his career, he was named Albuquerque’s favorite on-air personality a few dozen times by people’s choice awards in various publications. He has worked at different radio stations and in television.
Throughout it all, he thought about going back to school for a college degree. “It wasn’t education I was running away from” in dropping out, Daugherty said. “I love education, I love school, it was just the environment.”
He wasn’t sure at first what he wanted to study, and as a full-time working person with a long commute and a home life, he took classes one at a time for awhile. He was 41.
“I had always dreamed from an early age of being a schoolteacher, but I didn’t think I’d fit into the system,” Daugherty explained. After a hard day at work, he found himself in a Math class in the middle of the afternoon, confused by the assignment.
“Even though I was confused, I feel good again,” he said. “I thought, ‘School makes me feel good!’ and then I thought, ‘I’m gonna become a schoolteacher.’”
Daugherty earned a degree in Education and Religious Studies from the University of New Mexico on May 14. And he is continuing his schooling, now pursuing a Master’s degree in Education through an online program at Western New Mexico University.
A week before he graduated, Donnie Chase was on the air at The Peak radio station for the last time on May 5. He says he was ready for a change.
“One of the biggest gifts” he got from radio “was that I felt like, you know, my voice mattered,” Daugherty said. “Even just my regular speaking voice—you know because people used to make fun of the way I sounded.”
He has now traded in a lengthy commute for a 5-minute drive to work at the Estancia Valley Classical Academy in Edgewood, and is readying his classroom for the students that will soon fill the space. He’ll be teaching History to 7th- and 8th-grade students, along with a high school civics class on American Government. He’ll be hosting the school’s chess club daily after school.
Daugherty said he wanted to make sure the school has resources available for troubled students. “I brought this up in my interview, I wanted to make sure that I was at a school that provided resources and safety,” he said.
He said LGBTQ students—those students who are gay, or transgender, or have questions about their sexual orientation—are among the most-bullied groups, although things have changed.
While many young people now are accepting of various forms of gender identity, “there are different dynamics at play for them, like cyberbullying, that weren’t in play for us,” Daugherty said. “Those feeling like they don’t belong and aren’t worthy, those are the students we’ve got to reach and make sure they’re safe.”
Daugherty also said teachers are now trained that it’s important to work with both the bullied student and the one doing the bullying: “One of the things we trained for as educators is to recognize that when bullying is taking place … both are being negatively affected by it.”
Daugherty said he’s glad to be teaching in the community where he grew up. “It’s one of those very fortunate jobs where you can do it in whatever community you live in. … I feel blessed to be a part, I can’t even believe it. … I expect to wake up from a dream.”