A man who rose from poverty to become an electrical engineer before transitioning to teaching as a second career is the 2021-2022 Montgomery County Public Schools Teacher of the Year. Joseph Bostic Jr., the mathematics content specialist at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Germantown, teaches Algebra 1 and Honors Geometry, often incorporating STEM concepts to get his students interested in math.
“Some students say, ‘Math is hard, math is boring. I don’t want to be a part of it.’ But I can take mathematics and make it into a class [where] the students are taking a journey or a ride,” says Bostic. “They’re getting that chance to explore mathematics from a real estate perspective or financial literacy.”
Bostic’s transformation from engineer to educator began with a conversation he had with his grandmother. At the time, Bostic, who has a bachelor’s and master’s in engineering, was doing some grass roots teaching for a nonprofit organization. When she pushed him to look at his experiences from a different perspective, Bostic realized that part of his purpose was to be a teacher, a mentor or a coach.
In addition to teaching math at King Middle School, Bostic coaches football at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring. He is the junior varsity defensive coordinator and one of the varsity team’s assistant defensive coaches. “Our goal this year as coaches is to help our kids become better men,” says Bostic.
School officials credit Bostic with creating an action plan that helped reduce student absenteeism from more than 33% to less than 25% at King Middle School. They also praise him for his collaboration with human resources to help recruit teacher candidates from diverse backgrounds for MCPS.
Bostic, who begins his 14th year of teaching this fall — his seventh in Montgomery County — is humbled and grateful to be named MCPS Teacher of the Year. “It’ll be something that I’ll never forget,” he says. He is now a candidate for Maryland Teacher of the Year, which will be announced in October.
Montgomery Magazine spoke to Bostic about this recognition by MCPS as well as his difficult childhood and the challenges and rewards of teaching.
Montgomery Magazine: What does your selection as MCPS Teacher of the Year mean to you?
Joseph Bostic Jr.: It’s been a blessing, especially when I get the opportunity to represent a county of educators that is continuing to do phenomenal work every day in the classroom, especially during virtual-learning season.
MM: What has it been like teaching during the pandemic?
JB: It’s been challenging, and it can be discouraging in some ways. Some days, I would have my students’ sister or brother in the classroom. And they’re sitting there … and they’re waving. I didn’t want my student to feel bad, so I said, “Hey, what’s your brother or sister’s name?” It’s building that family environment virtually and making people feel comfortable being themselves or turning on their video. And I think that was important to build that confidence into the students that we’re all in this together.
MM: What do you find fulfilling about teaching?
JB: I feel like teaching provides us the opportunity to mold or shape the whole child. Meaning that it’s not just about academics. It’s not just a kid sitting at a desk every day. It’s the opportunity to take them outside of the classroom, helping their imagination so they can kind of see a preview of life’s coming attractions. And you get to do that with curriculum.
MM: What is your style of teaching, and how do students respond to it?
JB: My style of teaching is innovative. It requires students to be critical thinkers, problem solvers. One time [when] I was working with my co-teachers, we said, “You’re starting your own business. How much money will you start with? How much money will you be making per month or per week?” And we were doing all of this so we could teach them about slope intercept form. At the end of it, you get a chance to see your students say, “You know, math is fun, math is all right.” And that’s fulfilling for me.
MM: Can you talk about your challenging childhood?
JB: Growing up in a gang-infested environment filled with poverty, experiencing the side of things where I was homeless for a while, all of those things help me be the man that I am today and who I will continue to become. I can share those experiences with all of my students. It helps me to understand [that] it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you experience. You can be whoever you want to be.
MM: Why do you make home visits to help combat student absenteeism?
JB: Those home visits are important. It tells you a lot about the student, and it helps you educate a lot better because now you truly have the root of what this student needs.
You cannot fail a kid academically if you haven’t assured that they have attended school and have access to all of their learning. A great example is one of my students [who] struggled with attendance this year. I had to do some home visits virtually. He pretty much did not do well the entire quarter, but he was able to take the progress check and get a B on it.
MM: Can you describe your efforts to help MCPS recruit more diverse teachers?
JB: How do we get more people, specifically black male teachers? That’s been a real big push. And then how do we get teachers who are diverse in their background? Like, for example, cybersecurity or engineering, or we could have a doctor who’s a teacher.
MM: What are your plans?
JB: I think for my career, just continue teaching and just see what happens next. Of course, I don’t want to move anywhere or do anything that’s going to be a major shift. So, I’m just going to take it day by day and continue to do what I’m doing. I love my job. I love it.