Joseph Walter, third grade teacher at McCormick Elementary, has been named Farmington Municipal Schools’ 2022 Teacher of the Year.
Walter was selected from among 60 nominees by a committee of four former teachers of the year, according to Roberto Taboada, public information officer.
“We all think that he is a wonderful, wonderful teacher and that what he does for our schools and for the district is just really fantastic,” Taboada said.
“It was a surprise and an honor,” Walter said.
In September, Farmington Municipal Schools Superintendent Cody Diehl visited Walter’s classroom and announced to his class that Walter had won the honor.
“And I said ‘thank you’ to the one above,” Walter said, laughing.
Born in Peru, Walter’s early childhood years were spent in South America, where his parents were missionaries for evangelical churches. His first seven years were in Peru, followed by five in Colombia. Whenever his family returned to the United States, they went to Kansas, where Walter has family.
As the youngest of five children, he said, all but one sibling was born in South America. His teenage years were spent in the now-notorious Medellin, Columbia. His family left in the 1970s, before the city became a drug cartel mecca.
Walter attended a private Christian college before earning his teaching certificate from the University of Minnesota. It was there at a job fair that he visited a booth staffed by representatives from New Mexico.
“It happened to be that they were from Farmington, and that led to a phone interview and then a job offer,” he said.
His fluency in Spanish landed him a job in a bilingual classroom, and he now makes weekly robocalls in both English and Spanish.
He taught fourth grade for his first 11 years, and third grade for the rest of his 28 years, all at McCormick Elementary.
“Probably one of the highlights is … you know, eventually you teach the kids of former students,” he said. “It’s neat ’cause by then you kind of know the family. You feel like you’re connecting,” Walter said.
His teaching style and philosophy are based on trust.
“It’s been a real honor to gain the trust of the little kids. You know if they feel comfortable coming up and talking with you, and you can tell that they respect you – that’s a real plus,” he said. “You know, the only things that have worked for me is quietness and respect.”
“When I try to be fancy, or showy or mean or really lay into the kids, it just doesn’t work,” he said. “This year, I’m really trying to focus on just loving the kids.”
He recalled how his mother advised him to “pray for them, love them … then a lot of things are taken care of,” he said.
Technology has changed both the teaching and learning process.
“I think they are more motivated by technology, so it’s hard perhaps to get into reading the book,” Walter said.
He has seen children shift their focus to games and a lot of screen time, rather than outdoor activities. He referred to it as a “whole cultural shift in their activities at home.” Their focus on technology must be considered in the classroom.
“I think the bigger challenge is for me just catching up. It’s not all bad, we have a really good curriculum now that kind of combines both,” he said. It combines reading with videos that “really grab their attention.”
Every child is assigned a laptop, which remains in the classroom, now that the pandemic has eased.
“They are definitely tech-savvy, and I can just give an assignment, say open your computers, go to a website and start working,” he said.
He said instruction is provided with both a book and an online platform. For example, he might start the day with a textbook, then assign a follow-up activity online.
McCormick has dual language learning, which means that students in kindergarten through fifth grade have one class that is taught in both English and Spanish.
“The Spanish kids learn and improve their skills in English, and the English (speaking) kids get exposed to Spanish,” he said.
Walter and his colleagues are learning new curriculum – Core Knowledge Language Arts – which is provided by Amplify Education Inc. and is known as the “science of reading” Walter said.
Walter received high praise from his principal and peers.
“Mr. Walter has embraced the opportunity to grow professionally, as well as learn new ways of providing great instruction in our school,” said Principal Lyn White. “When his colleagues observe his classroom, there are always lots of great comments regarding his patience and ability to break down instruction into bite-sized pieces for his students. We are fortunate to be able to call Mr. Walter one of McCormick’s and Farmington Municipal Schools’ finest.”
To relax, Walter visits friends on the weekends and enjoys time in the countryside and hiking. He also enjoys sharing meals with friends and watching the Kansas City Chiefs.
But he also finds joy on the job.
“This is kind of odd, but sometimes with the kids at recess, they’re having fun running around playing, and you think, ’This is really nice.’ I mean, it doesn’t get much better.”