Each month, we highlight educators who have earned the designation of ‘master teacher’ through Texas’ Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA). TIA encourages school districts to locally develop multi-measure evaluation systems to reward and retain their most effective teachers. Those earning the ‘master teacher’ designation rank in the top 5% of educators in the entire state!
In college, Josue Tamarez Torres tutored students that reminded him of himself and the challenges he faced growing up in a family experiencing economic insecurity. That led him to apply for Teach for America, and now, after over a decade of teaching, he has earned TEA’s master teacher designation. This has kept him in the classroom, where he can be a champion for his students – while earning nearly six figures.
Read Mr. Tamarez Torres’ Q&A below.
Tell us a little about your life and career journey.
I grew up in a low-income family in the Dominican Republic. My parents always emphasized the importance of a good education and used to tell me that the only inheritance I was getting from them was a great education. In 2006, I moved to America and enrolled in college to study finance and investments.
During my last year of college, I tutored students who reminded me of myself – students growing up in poverty, some of whom had moved to the United States looking for a better life. They were hard-working kids who had been failed by the system and were in danger of dropping out of school. That’s why I decided to apply to Teach for America and become an educator. I wanted to give back to the community and be an inspiration to students growing up under the same circumstances I did. Now, as a teacher, I want to open the same doors for my students that education has opened for me.
Why did you get into education?
Most of the students I tutored during my last year of college were in the Bronx, the poorest borough in New York City and the place with the largest concentration of Black and Hispanic students in NYC. I noticed that many of those students were lacking foundational skills in math, and some were already in high school. As you might imagine, the likelihood of a kid graduating from college when they have fallen behind for multiple years academically is very slim. That's when I decided that I wanted to be part of the solution and become an educator.
I believe that your zip code shouldn’t determine your fate. I also wanted to be a role model for students that looked like me – showing them that it is possible to overcome poverty and see what’s achievable through a good education. Most importantly, I wanted to be a disruptor of the cycle of poverty that repeats too often in our communities.
How has being recognized and rewarded as a master teacher impacted your life?
It’s really simple: being recognized and rewarded as a master teacher is the reason why I am still in the classroom impacting the lives of my students. In 2015, after a phenomenal year academically for my students, I was considering leaving the classroom. I wanted to start a family and buy a house and realized that my salary wasn’t going to be enough.
The implementation of the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI) in Dallas ISD helped me stay because I saw an opportunity to be rewarded for my hard work. Now that Texas is recognizing and rewarding effective teachers across the state and investing money through the Teacher Incentive Allotment, I believe initiatives like TEI will be sustainable and keep great teachers in the classroom for the foreseeable future. This reward makes it easier for master teachers like me to focus on what we love, teaching students, without having to worry about providing for our families or thinking about working a second job.
What is a classroom experience or specific student that has stuck with you?
It is hard to pick one specific student or classroom experience when you have been in the classroom for over 12 years. Throughout the years, there have been many instances in which students came to me with low self-esteem because they had never passed a STAAR test or because they were struggling academically. My biggest satisfaction is to work with those students, hold them accountable to high expectations, and see their confidence slowly grow with each passing day. I have seen students go from a “Does Not Meet” in the STAAR test to a “Meets” or even “Masters” level. That’s why I teach – that’s what keeps me motivated and makes this profession worthwhile.
What is your advice to someone interested in becoming a high-performing educator?
As an educator, you have to be willing to keep growing: embrace feedback, be open to teaching a concept in a different way, and be flexible. Humility is an essential value in a high-performing educator. When I walk into a room with my colleagues, I am open to new ideas. I know that I don’t have all the answers and that other teachers, regardless of years in the classroom, have a lot to offer as well. There is a reason superstar athletes need a coach; there are certain things that you might miss while you are teaching, and your coaches will help you see them and help you grow. You must adapt and take steps to improve your craft. If you are not learning on a daily basis, it is going to be very hard to become a high-performing educator.
Finally, a high-performing educator holds his/her students to high expectations– always! Don’t fall prey to what journalist Michael Gerson used to describe as the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” The children sitting in your classrooms might be growing up under tough circumstances and heartbreaking conditions, but they are capable of doing great things. They are talented children waiting for a champion who believes in them. Don’t settle for anything less than excellence; their future depends on it.