Q&A with Verde Valley Teacher of the Week Brandon Islas
CLARKDALE – At Clarkdale-Jerome School, Brandon Islas is a winning coach and a winning educator.
That’s what Principal Steve Doerksen says about the school’s fourth-grade teacher.
“And by winning I do not simply mean by the number of points scored or tests passed – although Mr. Islas owns those too. Rather more importantly, by the amazing ethical, purposeful, and success-oriented influence he has on the kids,” Doerksen says. “He is what every parent and student wants in an educator.”
As a teacher, Islas is “all about academics,” Doerksen says.
“Not the rote, mechanical, boring kind that just regurgitates undigested information, but the thoughtful and reflective kind. The exciting kind. The kind that distinguishes true learning. The kind where students can apply their knowledge and skills to new situations. The kind that reaches out to every single student and brings them life,” Doerksen says.
As a basketball coach, Islas is about “drive, confidence, teamwork, and trust,” Doerksen says.
“He’s about showing the athletes ‘You can do it! If you work hard enough, you can do it!’ He’s about encouraging the students,” Doerksen says.
Though he has taught grades four through six the past six years at Clarkdale-Jerome, Islas says he “didn’t realize how much of a passion I had for teaching until after college.”
“I went into business, and after about five years I was ready for a career change,” Islas says. “I really loved coaching and I wanted a career that would leave a legacy long after my life is over. Teaching is one of those professions that leaves an imprint in a child’s life for years after they have left your classroom.”
Verde Valley Newspapers: Both excellence and laughter are staples of your classroom, you say. Are those things you enjoy most about teaching?
Brandon Islas: I have always strived to make learning fun and exciting. If you can laugh, love and learn all in the same day, you have had a great day. My students know how much they mean to me. They will tell you I am very goofy and I have motivated each of them to be the brightest fourth grader they can possibly be.”
VVN: Tell us about your teaching style.
Brandon Islas: “I enjoy problem-based learning where we use real life, open-ended problems to solve. My students are very aware that I will never give them an answer. I will usually guide them toward a method they could use to solve their problem.
“In most lessons, I will try to explain to my students why the lesson is important or relevant. If I can get my students to buy in on the importance of the lesson, the next step is to keep them engaged. Engaging the students by being a little goofy and crazy makes my job so much fun.”
VVN: Tell us something notable about you.
Islas: “I will always judge my career as an educator on how many students come back to say they appreciated me. At the end of my career, the number of lives I have helped and the lessons they learned to be a better person matter to me the most.
“My students current and past know that they are always welcomed into their fourth-grade classroom as long as I am teaching. My classroom is our home for so many school days, and my door will forever be opened for my students to return.”
VVN: Do you have a favorite quote or saying?
Islas: “I love Dr Seuss. I love most of his quotes, but the one that comes to mind right now is ‘Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment -- until it becomes a memory.’ Life and learning in my classroom are measured by successful moments. These moments always leave a lasting memory to my students and myself.”
VVN: Tell us something about you that most people don’t know.
Islas: “I am a huge worry wart. I worry about anything and everything. I had a hard time in school because I would worry so much about my grades that I would make myself sick.”
VVN: If you were not a teacher, what would you want to do?
Islas: “I love the saying that you should work at a job where it doesn’t feel like work. I don’t really know where I would be working if I couldn’t teach anymore. I love my job too much to even think about something else.”
Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42