Arizona Teacher of the Year Talks to COE Students

December 02, 2010 / by / 0 Comment

By Doug Carroll
Communications Staff

For evidence that good teachers make a difference, Exhibit A might be Joy Weiss.

Weiss, 35, was recognized as the 2010 Arizona Teacher of the Year by the Arizona Educational Foundation for her work in her first-grade classroom at Balsz Elementary School, near 44th Street and Loop 202 in Phoenix. All of her students are English Language Learners, most of them the children of Hispanic and Somali immigrants.

“I was born to teach,” says Weiss, a 1998 graduate of Arizona State University who also has a master’s degree from Northern Arizona University.

Making a difference? Absolutely. But there was a time when she was on the receiving end of the equation.

Weiss has vivid memories of teachers who impacted her as the child of an alcoholic father and a bipolar mother. She still stays in touch with her own kindergarten teacher.

“Every day, I went to school with baggage,” says Weiss, who was raised in Mesa. “But when I got to school, I knew I was safe.”

Her compelling life story and her passion for her work were shared Wednesday at a meeting of the College of Education’s Teach Club.

Weiss has taught for 12 years in the Balsz district, which hired her out of college only when grant money for a position became available. By her own admission, she wasn’t qualified for the job, but she brought all-day, every-day energy and an eagerness to learn.

Weiss says she knew in kindergarten that she would teach someday — and never considered another career path.

“This job is not a job to me,” she says. “It’s my life. I love what I do so much that I rarely get burned out.”

The keys, she says, are these:

  • Be passionate. “That needs to be there every single day. Your kids know when you’re passionate.”
  • Be adventurous. “Learning needs to be fun. Everything I do in the classroom, I try to make it an adventure. I get my students up, active and involved.”
  • Be knowledgeable. “I’m still imperfect as a teacher, still learning and growing. Education should never stop.”
  • Be flexible. “Once, during a bomb scare, we were outside the school for three hours. We read books.”
  • Be a cultivator. “You are cultivating minds, whatever grade you’re teaching. Every action, every word, is being taken in by your students.”

Weiss says it should be a given that a teacher will go the extra mile to connect with students and parents. She says that if a parent can meet with her only at lunch hour, she’ll go without lunch that day. If there’s a note that a parent needs to see — but is unable to read because of a language barrier — she’ll use a color-coding system indicating the degree of urgency, so that an interpreter can be sought out.

She refuses to be a stationary lecturer, feet planted in one spot. Instead, observers find her in perpetual motion, flitting from station to station, always a part of the action.

“I don’t have a teacher’s desk,” Weiss says. “I have a table in the back of the room. That way, the kids know it’s not my classroom, it’s our classroom.”

Is it rewarding? Well, what do you think?

“You feel like a rock star with pint-size paparazzi,” she says jokingly.

Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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