Q&A with Arizona’s 2018 Teacher of the Year Josh Meibos

Josh Meibos and a student demonstrates the flex arm hang for the class. Photos by Allen Patrou

Physical education teacher Josh Meibos says it was an honor to be named Arizona’s 2018 Teacher of the Year by the Arizona Educational Foundation. But he’s even more thrilled about the recognition for his Title 1 school in the Balsz School District. At David Crockett Elementary in Phoenix, one in five kids is homeless and one in seven is a refugee.

The November announcement created “an opportunity for me to put a spotlight on the good work that all the teachers were doing at Crockett,” Meibos says. The 39-year-old and his partner have no children of their own, but Meibos considers the nearly 500 children he teaches at Crockett his kids.

As Teacher of the Year, Meibos will receive a $15,000 cash award; one week at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama; professional training in public speaking and a chance to compete for National Teacher of the Year.

How many years have you taught at Crockett Elementary, and why have you stayed? This is my seventh year teaching and my seventh year at Crockett. When I got the job, I slowly pieced together the physical education program. I felt it had been ignored, and there had not been a consistent teacher for five years. I had the fortunate challenge [of making] the program my own. After meeting the dedicated staff, and especially the kids, I knew Crockett was a window of opportunity to really give back and make an impact.

What role do you think physical education plays in a student’s development? It is my job to educate and create lifelong physical activity learners. Physical education provides a path for students to strengthen their basic fundamental movements and rigorous motor skills. Moreover, it engages kids in team-building exercises promoting empathy, perseverance, confidence, good sportsmanship and appreciation for their personal health and ultimately [the health of] their family and friends.

What opportunities do you believe a PE teacher has that other teachers may not? I have the privilege [of teaching] the entire student body — kindergarten through sixth grade, including our SPED (special education) students. I get to challenge the students’ minds through physical activity. I am able to create curriculum that complements classroom work. I am able to help students build connections to math, language arts and science through physical education. I also get the opportunity to be a positive role model. Possibly, in some student situations, I am the only positive male role model they interact with on a daily basis. I am able to use one of many students’ favorite subjects to teach kindness and respect for their bodies, themselves and others.

How do you encourage children who don’t love PE classes? My philosophy for children who don’t like PE class is, they don’t like it yet. Students who don’t like PE are my favorite students, because they challenge me to understand what it is they don’t like. To me, those particular students help me to improve.

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What are the specific challenges of teaching kids who are homeless or refugees? Students in transition who attend Crockett are treated just like every other student at our school: equally. Our school has a McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act liaison who works with the homeless shelter. Our counselors and psychologist help the families, teachers and students adjust to a new reality. McKinney-Vento students also carry adverse childhood experiences [exposure to stressful or traumatic events including abuse and neglect], which play a part in how they learn and adapt at school. Crockett has implemented a mindfulness program on campus that helps all students deal with stress, anxiety, anger or frustration. Having mindfulness on our campus has been key to dealing with some of the situations our students are experiencing.

Poverty is a reality many of your students face. How do you deal with that as a teacher? Yes, Crockett hosts students facing poverty. However, in my opinion, poverty is a word my students don’t fully comprehend. That is what I enjoy about teaching elementary. I have an awesome opportunity to develop confidence at a young age. I strive to introduce a wide spectrum of activities where students can be successful. It is my job to provide opportunities where students can try new things and open themselves up to successes and failures — and more importantly, learn from their failures. My students have big dreams, and like every human, they want to be successful, respected and valued. My physical education program brings a three-dimensional approach to learning which can host a multitude of opportunities and choices for my students to guide themselves to being successful.

What advice would you give a new teacher? Stay true to your passion. Challenges bring change, and change is what we need in education. Be the change [you’d] like to see.

What’s the biggest challenge the education system is facing today? Teacher retention. Not only has it become difficult to keep a teacher, but it is equally challenging to recruit teachers. Arizona has over 1,000 teacher positions unfilled and has lost almost 500 teachers this year alone. I believe there are many reasons why, but one significant reason is Arizona is [nearly] dead last in the country when it comes to teacher pay. Our elected officials have the power and control to change this, and it is vital that we are informed and involved in our local elections. I do believe there are also some amazing things happening in education. There are passionate teachers, local officials and local business leaders invested [in] making a better tomorrow for the teaching profession and ultimately the success of our children.

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Do you have a proudest moment in dealing with a student or students that you can share? I’ve had many proud moments in dealing with students. However, I’m not sure if my proudest has happened yet. The day-to-day progress students make as they master a new skill is rewarding. I’ve also seen former students excel in middle school or high school sports or academics and come back to Crockett to say hello and share their accomplishments. Those are proud moments for a teacher. I was recently invited by a former student to attend her last home volleyball game, senior night. Not only did she secure a starting spot on the varsity team, but she has also received letters of intent from Northern Arizona University and Grand Canyon University for academic scholarships. She was in sixth grade when I first met her and taught her and coached her. She is so talented and so kind. Her family are all refugees from Africa, now here in Phoenix. She’s pretty amazing.

What are your goals for the future? To be the best I can be, and to be better than I was yesterday. My students, their families and my colleagues deserve it.

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How can parents can help a child succeed in school? One of the most powerful ways I believe a parent can help a child succeed in school is to love them unconditionally and support them in their passions, whatever they may be. One of my favorite quotes is from [Brazilian educator and philosopher] Paulo Freire: “Education either functions as an instrument, which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and brings about conformity, or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means of which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of the world.”

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