Educator Spotlight: Joe Marquez
Tech trainer and former coach motivates teachers by surpassing his own goals
This story is part of a weekly series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
Earlier this year, California educator Joe Marquez was in Seattle, Washington, offering a tech training when a teacher said to him bluntly, “I don’t get it. I’m trying to learn, and I want to understand, but technology just doesn’t come easy to me.”
As a seasoned trainer and former football coach, Joe was ready to rally with an upbeat response. He was completely prepared to lean in and empathize that he once felt that way, too, but that he gave himself time and patience to learn, and that technology doesn’t make us weak. It only enhances our strengths!
But before he could even jump in, she continued with a question that not only had no one ever asked Joe before but that has since turned his life around for the better: “Is there anything you’ve ever wanted in your life that you either just couldn’t start or never saw yourself finishing?”
“For weeks, I could not get her question out of my head,” says Joe, who works as the director of Academic Innovation for CUE. “And the answer to her question was yes, actually. I’d always wanted to get back into shape.
“But as a teacher, it’s so hard, right? You wake up at 5:30, in class by 6:30 and you teach till 6 at night. You’re tired. Repeat all that times 10 years. Man, you can get out of shape. But suddenly we were in the middle of a pandemic. I was working from home. So I said to myself, ‘If I can endure the pain and struggle of running again and losing weight, then maybe I can start empathizing with the struggle teachers endure when they’re just starting out with something new.’ ”
That was March 17 of this year, when Joe weighed 260 pounds. Today, he weighs 165 and never misses a daily 10-mile run for teachers just like her. Right now, we’re all experiencing something new, pushing ourselves now more than ever, and we’re fighting. Joe’s just proving to all of us that we can.
“I keep telling teachers, ‘You have a voice that matters,’ ” Joe says. “You may think that what you say or what you do isn’t special, but that one teacher spoke the truth to me that day, and I now have a new appreciation for hard work and for overcoming what we deem as impossible.
“Her voice has had such an impact! I can’t say it enough: Speak your truth, speak encouraging words to one another, and a find a way to be joyful about yourself.”
Before Joe was working with CUE, he was a junior high science teacher who banned cellphone signals from his classroom just to keep the kids’ attention. He fought technology hard until he realized he could use it to his advantage and then trained every other teacher in the school to follow along. He’s been encouraging tech tools with that big, confident smile ever since.
“I was such a follower for a long time – I never saw myself using technology, because I was told that’s not the way we do things – but I don’t like following the rules,” says Joe, who also records podcasts as part of Sons of Technology, an educator group he began in 2014. “My grandpa always said to me, ‘Nobody is ever remembered by doing the same thing the other person ahead of you did. People are only remembered when they step out of the line and do things their own way. So what do you want, Joe?’
“And that’s how I’m trying to help teachers today. I feel like, this year, everybody’s back to square one. It’s like everybody’s first year of teaching, remembering that very first moment before the bell rang, because we’re all so new to this. That means this is a chance for us to create our own path, be our own person and try new things.”
Joe knows we’re all hitting the pavement right now and running those endless miles along with him. We’re tired, the hill doesn’t seem to be going down, but it’s one step after the other anyway, and Joe is just the boost we need. Not only does he motivate teachers to dig deep, he reminds them that they’re not alone, and that anything is possible for them, too.
“In football, I was the lineman coach, and whenever I asked the kids who their favorite pro player was, they would always give me a receiver or a quarterback, but there is no game without the lineman! There is no protection!
“I always wanted to make sure that every kid was proud of their position, because the worst thing that can happen is a teammate who doesn’t think their role is as important or that they can’t accomplish something, and the same goes for teachers.
“Do not think you have to do everything on your own! There is no one great teacher on this campus, there is only a great staff, and we must rely on our strengths and ask for help in our weaknesses. Every race right now seems longer than it could possibly be, but let’s just get past the struggle together. You’ll get there.”