Urban Education can be its own Charism. Do you feel particularly called to teach in urban
[Doing] Teach for America, we are very much dedicated to working in high-need areas.
I come from a suburban background myself. I worked at a suburban school for three years. One thing I do believe is that children everywhere need good role models. They need people who love them. They need people who inspire them. I wouldn’t say that I have a need to be in an urban situation, but I am called to be an instructor. I feel called to teach those who are younger, to educate the ignorant — to use a term from the Spiritual Works of Mercy — and not ignorant as it is typically meant, but more to just fill those who want to learn with knowledge and the ability to think. That’s something that I strongly believe in, no matter in which setting it ends up being.
How has speaking Spanish helped you connect with your students?
I almost quit Spanish when I was in high school. I walked into my teacher’s class to have her sign the drop paper, (but) she wouldn’t give in right away, and eventually I gave in. I stuck with it, and my teacher the next year, Senora Houlihhan, was one of the best teachers. She took me from a mumbling and bumbling Spanish speaker to functionally fluent in a year, and since then, Spanish has always been a huge part of my life. I studied abroad in Chile, got a job working with a Spanish-speaking community in Phoenix, Arizona, and when I moved to Milwaukee, it was to a bilingual school. It’s an amazing story about how God can take even people’s weaknesses (my inability to say no to people) and turn it into a skill that has guided my life.
What about other languages?
I love Spanish and being bilingual. I’m even trying to learn French on my phone to become trilingual, which would be even cooler. It definitely helps me connect with and understand the students and their families. In MPS, I had a lot of Puerto Rican students and I’d never been to Puerto Rico. So one spring break, I took a vacation to Puerto Rico, and then when I came back, I could talk with them about their food and talk with them about music and Mogongo and all these different neighborhoods that I saw. It means a lot to a student to be able to speak with them in their home language about their homes, their culture, their interests, their favorite places and the things they find delicious. I think learning a language goes back to curiosity — if you are curious, you’ll be a better teacher because you’ll inherently love learning and discovering the world.
How has your faith grown recently?
I was raised Catholic, but the faith has not always been central in my life, though during the past several years, I have been on a mission to reach a mature understanding of my faith. The podcasts “Pints With Aquinas” and “Bible in a Year” have been extremely helpful in developing not just faith but a robust understanding of the Catholic worldview. I’ve also been trying to read some of Aquinas and Augustine. I think that we’ve got this beautiful intellectual tradition. There are so many questions out there, and in Christianity, you can find the answer.
What are some examples?
This year in my religion classroom, the first lesson that I had to teach was on the Incarnation — this divinely revealed truth that Jesus is both 100 percent God and 100 percent man, and if you understand this truth, that Jesus came down, that this is God entering our race to show his love for us, then a lot of relativity goes out the window. This is something that is eternal and has eternal consequences for me.
How do your challenge your students?
When I teach religion, I try to layer apologetics into my lessons by sprinkling in an idea that is popular in our culture about the topic. For the Incarnation, that is the mistaken idea that Jesus was just some guy — a great teacher, a wise man, but ultimately just a guy — and then throughout the unit I try to teach the kids why that idea is incorrect, and how to respond as a Catholic. The final question on every single test is, “What would you say to this? What is the Catholic response to a popular idea?” I try to get them to know and then ultimately defend their faith.
What do you enjoy doing outside of the school day?
My wife and I try to be active. We have run in 5Ks and even completed a half-marathon together. We take many walks and bike rides together, as well as play many sports — especially kickball. During the summer, our weekly kickball night is essentially the highlight of my week every single week. I love both watching and playing sports, with basketball and soccer being my two favorite real sports (not sure if kickball qualifies as a real sport). We love to travel, whether that is road-tripping around the Midwest, or going much further abroad. At home, I love to cook, read and cuddle with my two cats.