13 Reasons Why I Teach

Posted: 08/09/2017 in Life lessons
Tags: , , , ,

The 2017-2018 school year has commenced at Villago Middle School in hot and sunny Casa Grande, Arizona. I love the sensation of butterflies tickling my insides as youthful chatter resurrects life on the campus of our summer ghost town. Like monsoon rain in the barren desert, the return of students is a welcome and refreshing sight.

The beautiful thing about this feeling is that I know I’m not alone. I can honestly, and in good conscience, proclaim that every Villago teacher and support staffer feels the same way.  Reflection exercises like the one I’m about to share with you get and keep us in touch with our “Why.” Inspired by the work of Simon Sinek and his book, “Start With Why”, Principal, Jeff Lavender, has challenged the staff of Villago Middle School to reacquaint themselves with their “Why” over the past three years.  To gear up for this new school year, Mr. Lavender unleashed a 13 question reflection exercise to laser our focus and engage the gears of our idling engines.  So, here you have it.  “13 Reasons Why” I Teach.

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I’m sharing my reflection because it is having a profound impact on me. I’m pretty self-motivated and pretty in touch with the reasons I do what I do. However, this reflection exercise struck a cord I forgot I could play. Sometimes we forget or take for granted the details of our lives that have molded and shaped who we have become or are striving to be. Reflecting and remembering can be such a useful and eye-opening fuel to spark the flames of passion and Villago A+ignite the enthusiasm that makes us truly effective. Perhaps it would be good for you to answer the questions and do a little self-reflection, as well.  What could it hurt? If you do, I sure would be interested to hear about your experience.  (c:]


Peace and Blessings…



Start With Why Reflection

  1. What kind of student were you in elementary, middle, and high school?

Elementary School – In elementary school I was a model student. I wanted my parents and teachers to be proud of me and happy with my work and grades. As such, I was a rule follower and towed the line. I always received good grades and complimentary comments from teachers on my report cards.

Middle School – For the most part, I remained the same throughout middle school, although the curiosity of adolescence combined with a poor self-image began leading me down questionable paths. My drive to maintain good grades and a good reputation was no longer solely motivated by keeping my parents and teachers happy, but became partially motivated as a cover-up for some of my questionable choices and activities.

High School – In high school I was the classic case of “not measuring up to my potential.” I maintained passing grades but never applied myself to achieve my best. I became more concerned and motivated by what my friends thought and hung around friends who weren’t always the best influence. In high school, my low self-image made it more about fitting in and being accepted. What my parents thought became less important than what my friends thought. To get my way, I became a master manipulator and a chameleon…I was many things to many people but lost myself in the process.

2. What was your favorite subject in school?

I didn’t really have a favorite subject

3. What subject did you struggle with most in school?

Any math past algebra in high school

4. What special activities did you participate in?

Basketball – Jr. High and High School

Baseball – Jr. High School

5. What teacher impacted you the most in a positive way? How did that teacher impact you?

Mrs. Boyer/Kindergarten – Mrs. Boyer was the teacher that introduced me to my first formal education experience. She was stern but she was kind and caring. She introduced me and all my classmates to the Golden Rule which has guided me since 1968. (c:]

Coach Tanke/sophomore – I’ve told the story numerous times about missing four free-throws and losing a J.V. basketball game. Coach Tanke cared about his students and players and showed it by his attitude and actions towards them. On that fateful day, Coach uttered 14 words in 5 seconds of a 7 or 8 minute conversation that profoundly impacted the direction my life would take. Coach Doug Tanke’s words taught and reinforced the belief that my value is not a product of my performance but a product of my person and presence. Simply put, I am valuable because I am a human being and I am living.

6. Did you have any teachers impact you in a negative way? How did they impact you in a negative way?

Yes, all the teachers (there weren’t many) who placed my grades and performance as a pupil above knowing me as a person. They seemed to be the most rigid, least tolerant, and frequently disconnected from their students. In my mind, it was as though they thought good grades/performance fixes everything.

7. Think back to when you made the decision to be a teacher. What was the driving force in your making the decision?

I didn’t choose teaching, teaching chose me. You can choose your job but your calling chooses you. To be a teacher, as I am now, is the last thing I would have ever considered as a career choice. Rather than choose a career path, I chose a way of living…a guiding philosophy and way of being. I made the decision early in my life that I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, especially young people. I was 18 years old and a senior in high school at the time (1981). “What do you want to do with your life?” “Where do you want to go?” “Do you want to stay in Coolidge and take over the family business?” “Wherever you go, whatever you do, how can you be successful or happy making the same choices you are now?” These questions and others like them drove my search for meaning and purpose. As a senior in high school, I felt like I was on the clock and running out of time. The questions eventually led me to a life changing encounter with God at a small Assembly of God church in Coolidge, Arizona.  My first prayer after receiving salvation was, “Lord, use me to help other youth not make the same mistakes I have made.” I am happy to know and blessed to say that God is still spending my life answering that prayer. First in full-time ministry as a youth pastor for 28 years, and now as an integral team member of a highly successful middle school in the public education domain in Casa Grande, Arizona.

8. Was there a teacher (or teachers) who contributed to you making that decision to be a teacher? How did they contribute?

I couldn’t possibly name them all. I have been fortunate and blessed to be influenced by numerous people who have recognized and guided my skill set and abilities. From the ranks of ministry and church work to the ranks of public education, I have rubbed elbows with and been encouraged by some of the best in their respective fields.

I would also say that the teachers I referenced earlier who had positive and negative impacts on me have aided me by laying a foundation for what and what not to emulate as I have worked with youth in ministry and public education. One of my most effective and centering strategies is to reflect on how certain actions by teachers (and adults in general) impacted me as a youth and student. Times have changed but youth are largely the same. If a teacher’s actions or words impacted me a certain way back then, it stands to reason that similar actions and words will evoke the same or similar response from the young people I serve and work with today.

Jeff Lavender – Jeff Lavender is a “like-a-brother” friend, colleague, and supervisor/principal. Jeff ranks as one of the largest influences in my life and career as an educator. He had the vision and foresight to open the door and pave the way to my involvement in public education when I was still in full-time youth ministry. He was the first to instill in me the thought that I could be effective working in a public school environment. Without his influence, trust and support, and the opportunities he has labored to provide, I would not be where I am today.

Mario Tijerina – Mario Tijerina is also a “like-a-brother” friend, colleague, and confidant. He also ranks as one of the largest influences in my life and career as an educator. Mario provided me with my first opportunity and experience of formally speaking to students in the public school domain as a regular guest speaker and mentor for his non-profit organization, G.O.L.D. Scholars. Through this experience and through Mario’s encouragement and counsel I began to realize that I could be effective teaching in a public school setting. Mario has also been a continuous and ready resource for information and strategies which have aided in my growth as an educator.

Both Jeff and Mario helped me to shun the ecumenical (religious) ideology that public schooling is opposed to or at least resistant to the spiritual needs of students. These men valued, embraced, and welcomed the unique measure of spirituality I could bring to their respective students by way of character and “whole child” development. They were both instrumental in guiding me to strategies of blending the two genres of education in a way that was discreet and acceptable in a public school setting while allowing and encouraging me to continue being me. I am a better man and educator for having known Jeff and Mario. They are both visionaries and pioneers of the benefits and implementation of Social Emotional Learning as a featured strategy to obtain “whole child” instruction leading to superior academic outcomes for students in public education.

9. Was there an individual who was not a teacher that influenced you to become a teacher? How did they contribute?

My parents – My parents instilled in me the value for others, and for life in general, which led me to decide I wanted to make a difference in the world. Neither of my parents completed high school nor did they have any college education. However, their “old school” wisdom and common sense served them well while owning and operating two successful businesses in the small town of Coolidge, Arizona. They were my first living exposure to the effectiveness, benefits, and importance of “Emotional Intelligence” and, by default, social emotional learning. They were successful in business and in life, not as a result of academic prowess or college degrees, but as a result of their knowledge and mastery of treating others as they desired to be treated.  The Golden Rule. My dad use to tell me, “You can call someone every dirty name in the book and they’ll thank you for it if you do it right.”  This was not a regular practice of his, but his statement taught me the importance of vocabulary, articulation, and use of people skills which is the point he wanted to make. My parents also instilled in me the value of helping others. Especially, the less fortunate. When I was growing up, our doors were always open to those in need. As an owner of a grocery business in our small community, I observed numerous occasions when my dad gave boxes of groceries or extended a line of credit to help families in need. The alcoholic, addicted, and homeless in our town often sought him out for hand-outs to feed their addictions. Rather than give money, my dad would give them a job. Sometimes it was for a few hours, sometimes it might be a day or two.  He would then pay them with groceries or clothes. If they required money to purchase something legitimate, he would take them and purchase it for them. He believed this practice allowed them to achieve a measure of dignity and self-value even if it was just for a while. They never stopped coming around and always knew they would have to provide a day’s work for a day’s wage rather than beg for hand-outs. He always had a job for them to do and would pay them for their work. This practice of helping others is one that my wife and family have happily continued to honor and practice to this present day.

My Wife, Tina – I would absolutely not be the man I am today without Tina’s total support, encouragement, understanding, and unconditional love. We are both in our second marriage and I was already a youth pastor/teacher when we met and married. I was emotionally damaged as a result of a divorce and estrangement from my two daughters which followed the divorce. Tina endured much hardship in the early years of our marriage including hatefulness and mistreatment from my former spouse and two daughters.  My own mishandling of the aftermath of divorce only compounded matters for her. She painstakingly endured and lovingly (sometimes with brutal honesty) nurtured me back to emotional health. She employed strategies she had learned in rehabilitation (Social Emotional/Coping Skills) to model and demonstrate the need to become a more effective communicator for the sake of fostering and sustaining healthy relationships. I am a better everything (man, husband, dad, teacher, etc) because of her love, commitment, and dedication. To say that she saved my life may border on dramatic overstatement, however, it is not hyperbole to state that my life, as it is now, has been made possible by her unconditional love, relentless support, and unwavering patience.

10. What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?

For me, the most rewarding experience of teaching is when my love for students is reciprocated by the students I serve. Why? Because, then I know the relationship is such that I can teach them anything…especially about life. When students show their appreciation…no matter how small they may think their gesture is…it speaks volumes to me about why I do what I do and how well I am doing it. Their simple show of appreciation informs me, reminds me, and confirms to me, that I am doing what I was born to do. Equally rewarding is watching students’ faces light up when they grasp and understood a concept. Especially, a life skill. In middle school the profound growth I have the privilege of witnessing in students between their 6th and 8th grade years is truly an experience surpassed only by watching my own children and grandchildren grow and learn.

11. Half of all new teachers quit within their first three years of teaching. Why have you not quit, or plan to quit?

Because I’m still breathing, I have a healthy body, I have a good mind, and I have a heart to make a difference. I will continue to do what I do until I can no longer do it effectively! When my career ends, my calling will continue, and I will find a way to keep living it out.

12. If something tragically happened to you this year and your family asked me to give your eulogy, what would you think I should share about you as a teacher?

He was an excellent husband, dad, and grandfather. He loved kids. He made a difference. He proved that “Hugs make the world a better place.” He was a faithful, genuine friend and confidant. He learned from his mistakes and lived his love out loud. He was “salt to the earth and light to the world.”

13. In preparing your eulogy, I ask your students for ideas on what to share, what would you hope they would tell me?

That everything in my response to question 12 is accurate and true.

Review all of your answers to the above 13 questions. Based on your review, please give a 1-3 sentence statement “WHY” you are a teacher.

I am a teacher/youth worker because it’s what I was born to do. My “WHY” starts with my “WHO.” My prayer was to “help others not make the same mistakes I’ve made” That prayer request emanated from Who I am…who I was created to be. “WHO” I am, essentially and eventually, fueled my “WHY.” As cliché as it may sound, I teach and work with youth because I truly love and care about them. I hope to leave a footprint on planet earth by positively impacting the next and future generations.

  1. Mario Tijerina says:

    Joe this is an awesome exercise for getting to your “Why”. I appreciate your kind words.


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