Ray Urquieta, 43, spent 20 years in the Marines Corps and served two tours in Iraq. Upon retiring, he considered a career as a policeman, but his wife, Kristine, had had enough worrying about his safety.
Urquieta still wanted to serve his community. He loves kids and he had done some teaching as a drill instructor in the Marines. So he got an education degree at Arizona State University through the iTeachAZ program, which provides a full year of student teaching experience in local classrooms. He is now teaching fifth graders at Kyrene de las Brisas Elementary in Chandler.
Urquieta says being a Marine created habits that serve him well in the classroom: focus, drive, attention to detail, being prepared and keeping in mind that failure is not an option.
On the day I visited, he was starting a unit on biomedical engineering. Groups of students were given an object — like a shoe, a calculator or a metal water bottle — and they had to explain what kind of technology they thought went into designing and manufacturing it. Urquieta went from group to group, drawing out more thorough understandings of each object as a product of technology and engineering.
It’s not combat, but being responsible for the educational progress of a group of 10- and 11-year-olds carries its own pressures.
Being a first-year teacher is “a different stress,” says Urquieta.
Not surprisingly, he’s calm and even-toned in the classroom. He kids one student about wearing a University of Arizona shirt. Urquieta is an ASU fan.
The classroom is orderly, colorful and quiet and the students, like fifth graders anywhere, mostly do their work with periodic reminders to attend to their assignments and quiet down. When Urquieta instructed Marines, they were trained to listen and perform per instructions. He says, “Marines just do.” Not so fifth graders, whose tasks don’t carry the immediacy and urgency of the military.