Meet Walking Classroom Ambassador Josh Montero. Josh began his teaching career working with fifth grade students and currently teaches a 4/5 combination class at Van Buren Elementary School in California. He has worked in education for three years, and is in his second year incorporating The Walking Classroom in his curriculum.
What are your memories of yourself when you were at your students’ age?
I wasn’t the best student. Being bright, I was rarely challenged by teachers, so I talked and fooled around. Never a behavior issue, wasn’t a bully or anything, but I was probably a pain.
What led you to become an educator?
As cliché as it might sound, this has always been what I wanted to do. My mom is a teacher, as are a couple of my aunts, two of my cousins, and several of my friends. It was probably preordained in me very early on.
Share your educational philosophy in one to three sentences.
Students need to be challenged to grow, but that can only happen in an environment that is safe, welcoming, and fun. Whether fifth graders or executives for a large company, we all perform better when we enjoy going to work and feel safe to take risks. I try very hard to make my classroom a place where that is possible.
What is your favorite content area/topic to teach? Why?
I am a big history nerd, but I LOVE the new science. Sometimes I wish the NGSS was around when I was in school. Making students have to think deeper, solve problems, ask questions, self-evaluate—these are skills that the NGSS pushes, but ones that make students better in math, language arts, and social studies. I am also a huge hands-on guy, so I like rolling up my sleeves and getting into robotics or engineering with my class.
What is your favorite podcast or Walking Classroom memory and why?
I had a student last year who just couldn’t possibly care less about school. Neither of his parents finished high school and they got by, so there was no push to care about school at home. He wouldn’t do homework and didn’t do much work in class. I tried for four months to connect with him. No luck.
The day we took our walk and listened to the podcast about the Negro Leagues, he, a young African American kid who knows I love baseball, started asking me questions about Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. He was amazed I knew about them. We started talking and he stayed a half hour after school that day to talk to me. Interestingly enough, he turned out to be, by far, my brightest student, but it took a Walking Classroom podcast to get him to open up to me and start to buy into what I was doing with the class. The final trimester of the year, he earned honor roll recognition, something nobody in his family had ever done.
What is your best teaching memory?
I had a girl who just would not stop talking, ever. She was a sweetheart, and actually quite strong academically. One day I reached my wits’ end and called her out and ended up lecturing her in front of everyone. It wasn’t disrespectful. I was just making the point that if she wanted to follow her dreams and go to college and do all the things she bragged about wanting to do, she would have to get her act together. She started crying and I felt awful.
The next morning she ran over to me before school started and gave me a huge hug. I will never forget what she said. “Thank you for believing in me. Nobody thinks I can really go to college, and nobody wants me to be better,” she said of her family who were very poor, as were all of our students’ families. I felt bad for calling her out, not that I did it in an inappropriate or mean way, but I didn’t become a teacher to make eleven year olds cry. That one moment of realizing I was able to reach someone will always stick with me.
What advice would you give to a new teacher?
I would give them the same advice I give my students: don’t be afraid to try something new. Failure is okay. As teachers, it is much more important that we recover and learn from our failures quickly, but it’s okay to have ideas and want to try new things.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I am a very passionate person, and that comes through in my teaching, but also in my sports obsessions. A dyed-in-the-wool San Francisco Giants fan, I also pledge my allegiance to the 49ers and Warriors. I really love cooking and travel, but spend a lot of time chasing around my five-year-old daughter, Maddy.
Name something you’d like to cross off your bucket list.
My father’s family is from Cuba, and he and my uncle and grandparents lived there until Castro took over. I have always longed to see Cuba, even though it won’t be anything like it was when my family lived in Havana. With things changing, it may become something I can actually cross off the list!
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