Teacher of the Week: Joe Pittenger

Teacher of the Week: Joe Pittenger

Meet JOE PITTENGER, a special-education instructor at Champaign's Franklin Middle School who teaches reading, writing and math. Prior to his current job, he worked in alternative teaching in Los Angeles, for Unit 4's Kids Plus program and at the Hard Rock Cafe in Chicago. The one thing they all have in common?

"I always knew I liked helping people," Pittenger says.

Here's more.

When it comes to getting students to listen ... stories from the Hard Rock Cafe are a great way to get kids' attention. They love the story of me helping Kanye West and his mom. I helped check them in; his mom was giving him a hard time. I also met Chuck Berry and Björk. I met a lot of celebrities.

What makes me unique as an educator is ... I was a career-changer. I was in the hospitality before this — I spent nearly 10 years working as a doorman at the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Chicago. It gave me perspective. It was a job where I met people from every walk of life, every country in the world. It was also a little gritty at times.

What's cool about our school is ... we call ourselves "Franklin family." I thought at first, "Every school does that." But more and more, I feel like I really have a home here. You have to have that in this job.

Where I was grew up ... my community wasn't necessarily college-bound. Teaching was not in my blood, but as a young person, I needed a lot of support and I wanted to do that for other people. In college, I fell in with a lot of students who knew what they wanted, which was to teach, and I just followed their lead.

In school, I always have on me ... a box of sharpened pencils. We're always trying to push students to be more independent, but where I'm at, I feel like they have bigger fish to fry than pencils, so I take care of that.

The best part about teaching is ... getting these kids to smile and building their self-confidence and giving them something they can go home and tell their folks about. It's the small victories that bring me back every day.

My favorite lessons are ... about humility and patience, not so much about compound sentences.

As far as social media ... I'm mostly an Instagram guy. I have a 9-year-old daughter, so I did get Snapchat recently.

Come summertime ... I'm a father and have a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old, so we go to the pool a lot. I ride bikes — I'm a big bicycling enthusiast. Gardening is something I've gotten to be better at recently. I gave myself a D two summers ago, then I gave myself a B last year. I'm hoping for an A this year.

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