One In A Million: Jonathan Uko
School: Champion Schools – South Mountain
Grade: 5th Grade, Math and Science
How long have you been a teacher?
I have been teaching elementary education for 2 years, and currently teach 5th grade, Math and Science. Having 7 years work experience in higher education prior to me teaching has allowed me to understand the education industry from a different perspective. However, these two years of teaching have been very challenging, yet rewarding for me, because I love the difference I can make for these young people.
What made you get into the teaching profession?
Growing up as a child I witnessed my father being a teacher, and noticed how cool he was to all his students, even long after they moved on from his classroom. No matter how old the students were, they seemed to all have had a positive interaction with my father. I recognized that being a teacher earns you a lot of respect, popularity, personal growth and a decent work schedule ( summer & holidays off). I knew this was something I wanted to eventually pursue, but always felt nervous about the responsibilities that come along with the position, and hated the thought of taking a financial pay cut from what I was accustomed to earning.
After graduating with my Bachelors degree from ASU (Arizona State Univ) I began working in admissions and financial aid for a university, where I advised many college
students into getting started on their educational journey. At this same time I obtained my Masters of Science in Management. After being employed there for six years I felt that it was now time for me to start making a bigger impact in education.I knew teaching was my calling, but needed some motivation and direction as to how to get started. Well it wasn’t long before I got that extra guidance that was needed.
One afternoon I was working my part time job as a Lyft driver, and crossed paths with a school principal, named Mr. Johnson during a pickup. We briefly talked about our pasts at ASU, and I mentioned my career goal of being a teacher. He encouraged me to just do it, because he could tell I was passionate, and would be a great teacher. We exchanged contact information, and I eventually contacted him several months later, which was after I received the teacher certification. Well, I landed myself an interview with his school and was hired on as a 3rd grade teacher. Till this day I am so grateful that I took action and chose to move forward with teaching as my career decision.
Who was your most inspirational teacher and why?
I was fortunate to have very inspirational people as my teachers throughout grade school and college, but the most inspirational teacher is my father himself, Mr. Uko. He too is an elementary educator and also taught college level courses. As a young boy, I would love the times I visited his school campus and helped out inside his classroom. Mr. Uko showed me how to be a great educator and father at the same time. Keeping a positive
work-life balance can be difficult for many teachers, but I watched Mr. Uko be consistent with maintaining this standard all the time. Always supporting me to strive in education and do my best as a leader.
My father came to United States from Nigeria at the age of 20 with very little, and has managed to become successful and educated. Worked hard enough so that my entire family benefited from somewhat from his positive decisions and actions. I am truly blessed to have an awesome teacher as a parent. My father has a very militant and serious teaching style, but is also funny at the same time. This always amused me that he could do both and still maintain learning, order and discipline in the classroom.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teachers in Arizona face right now?
Being overworked and underpaid is definitely the biggest challenge that teachers in AZ face. During my first year teaching,I found myself consistently working three different jobs, just to support my family of 4 on the teachers salary. Eventually, things changed for the better, due to the, “RED-FOR-ED” movement which helped many teachers like myself earn a significant pay raise for the 2018-19 school year. There is still work that needs to be done, but the process starts with educators being recognized, valued and compensated properly. Teaching is the one profession that creates all professions, therefore it should be compensated properly, especially since a bachelor’s degree is a requirement.
How do these issues affect your day to day?
Being an educator requires a lot of hours working outside of the classroom instructional time, in order to maintain success. For instance, teachers are not getting paid to grade papers late nights or over the weekend. However, most teachers do it, because they understand that its required maintain the standard the school districts expects of them.
Each school year the standards for education increase and teachers are always expected to show student growth, even if resources may not always be accessible to the students. l have spent my own money on classroom supplies many times, and there are times I dont have the money, which means the class may not get the full experience of the lesson, like I originally intended. Politics play a huge factor in the way education industry operates, so I am hoping to see changes for the better in the near future.
What does the $250 tax deduction for school supplies for teachers mean to you? I am very happy that lawmakers have sided with educators on this tax deduction, because its needed. For educators across the state, this is what is needed to get things moving in the right direction for education reform.
How are the expectations of becoming a teacher different than the reality?
When a person goes to college to become a teacher they are sometimes expecting the classroom to be a place where they simply walk inside and teach a lesson. Well, in reality it is not that easy, and can be chaotic at first. Any disruptions are going to need to be addressed immediately, before a teacher loses all control of the classroom. Being strict with the classroom rules, procedures and expectations is a must and in the beginning
they must be retaught daily/weekly before a solid lesson can be taught successfully. Dealing with multiple student behavior issues is a reality that some teachers are not prepared for. Unfortunately, in college these expectations may not have been a huge focus within the curriculum. I believe classroom management is the most important thing a teacher can prepare for in the reality of being an educator.
Why do you think teachers burn out so quickly?
Each year the teachers are expected to do more, with less. There can also be a disconnect between administration and teachers, where the expectations are not realistic given the circumstances at times. As a new teacher it can be difficult role to fill, because they may feel misguided at times. Having any lack of patience and self discipline can bring one to feel overloaded with tasks and responsibilities.
I noticed right away that any college graduate with student loan debt, wants a career in which they are properly compensated for in return, but teaching is not the first career choice they go for due to the low pay. Some teachers stated they can make more money as a gas station manager. This isn’t right and causes burn-out for teachers who began to struggle financially or get more stressed out. Those who love teaching are usually not doing it for the money, but for other interpersonal reasons. With there being a teacher shortage in Arizona, many schools have part time teachers in classrooms that are not fully trained or who barely meet minimum expectations. This means that the people who went to college for the career have left the to find teacher work in other states or have turned to another career that’s more lucrative. If things don’t change these negative
circumstances will continue to have a domino effect on the students learning and academic growth within the classrooms.
What fills your cup when you’re running on empty?
Knowing that my oldest daughter wants to be a teacher, just like me when she grows up, helps my cup get filled. Being a good example and inspiration for her and others is something I am passionate about. I need to be in this profession to assist with the positive changes that are coming to Arizona education.
What are some of the most thoughtful and effective ways parents and the community can show gratitude?
Effective ways for the community to show gratitude would be having teacher appreciation days on certain months with local businesses where certain things are discounted or free like books, class items, food, clothes and entertainment activities. Parents should always try to attend the meetings that the school has, so they can get a better idea of what there child is up against. Simply just talking to the teacher about any extra support is always helpful way to show gratitude.
What is your wish for Arizona’s children?
I wish that all Arizona students get the access to the resources for a good learning environment, where they can have qualified and well paid teachers who a care about their future. I want the students of this state to place higher on standardized test scores and get support they need to succeed.