Chalkboard Champion and Arizona math educator Joaquin Bustoz, Jr.

There are many examples of brilliant educators who have offered their talents to improve high school instruction. One such educator was Joaquin Bustoz, Jr., a university math professor from Arizona who established an advanced placement program for high school students.

Joaquin was born on December 30, 1939, in Tempe, Arizona, one of five children born to parents Joaquin, Sr., and Ramona. His parents, who were farm workers, also worked for their local schools, and were so revered that the Tempe Unified School District even named one of their elementary school after the couple.

In 1962, Joaquin earned his bachelor’s degree in math from Arizona State University. Continuing his education at that institution, he earned his master’s degree the following year, and in 1967 he completed the requirements for his doctorate degree. After earning his doctorate, Joaquin became a professor of mathematics at the University of Cincinatti, where he taught from 1969 to 1976.

In 1985, Joaquin founded the Summer Math-Science Honors program for high school students under the auspices of the University of Arizona. Still in place today, the curriculum offers an advanced placement program that provides opportunities for under-represented students to study university mathematics and science while still enrolled in high school. He also devoted many hours to Native American students on the nearby Navajo and Pima Reservations. For his outstanding work Joaquin has garnered numerous awards. For example, President Bill Clinton awarded Joaquin the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math, Engineering in 1996.

Sadly, this talented and dedicated educator was killed on August 13, 2003, in an auto accident. He is interred at Double Butte Cemetery in Tempe.

You can learn more about this outstanding chalkboard champion on the website of the Mathematical Association of America by clicking MAA. You can also learn more about the advanced placement program he founded at ASU Summer Math Program.


The Rebounding Effect: Positivity Generates Positivity

Every chalkboard champion knows that positivity in the classroom generates positivity in return. Here’s a tangible example of that which I learned one year, quite by accident.

You know how at the beginning of every year we are asked to complete a form that lists our goals for the year? Well, one year I decided that my goal was to make a sincere effort to be better at praising my students. I wanted to create a more positive relationship with my kids and a more congenial classroom environment. In addition, my principal was impressing upon the staff the need to foster better communication with parents. I decided I would combine the two goals, and so, on my form, I wrote that each month I would write six letters to parents praising their child. As a junior high school teacher with six classes of 42 students each, I reasoned that it shouldn’t be difficult to find one kid from each class each month that I could say something good about.

And so for the entire year, at the end of every month, I selected my six students and wrote each one a praise letter on decorative stationery. I read each letter aloud to the student before I put it in the envelope and sealed it, and then I gave it to the kid to take home to their parents. I shared the notes with the students to lower their anxiety level—a letter from the teacher is rarely good news—and to ensure that the note would really get delivered. But I could just as easily have put some postage on the letters and sent them through the U.S. mail.

The response I received from the parents was overwhelming. Many of the parents wrote notes back to me, expressing messages about how much they appreciated receiving praise about their child, how much their child enjoyed my class, or how pleased they were that I was their child’s teacher. Imagine my surprise when I realised that I was receiving praise letters like the ones that I was sending! I saved these notes, partly because they were so uplifting, and partly as proof that I had met the goals I had set for myself for the year. In May, I presented them to my principal at my annual evaluation conference. My principal suggested I photocopy the notes and take them to the District Office to be placed in my personnel file there, so I did.

And here is how those letters further rebounded positivity back to me. A couple of years later I applied for a transfer to a new school that was opening up in my district. I was thrilled when I was selected for the position. Imagine my surprise when, later, my new principal told me that he had read those letters in my personnel file, and it was partly because of them that he decided to hire me!

Try this strategy. It could create a rebound of positivity for you, too!

History teacher Darrell Jones: US Veteran and Chalkboard Champion

On Veterans Day, the entire country pauses to express appreciation to our nation’s heroic veterans for all they have done, including laying their lives on the line, to protect our American freedoms. One such veteran is Darrell Jones, a middle school history teacher in Mississippi.

As a younger man, Darrell served in the United States Air Force for 20 years. On active duty from 1991 to 2011, he was deployed over two dozen times, including stints in Iraq. During his years of service, the now-retired Technical Sergeant E-6 worked as a crew chief and as an aircraft mechanic.

Darrell grew up in Buffalo, New York. After he graduated high school in 1988, he enrolled in college, where he completed three years of study. He interrupted his studies to join the military, but once he retired from the Air Force in 2011, he used his GI benefits to complete his degree. He earned his bachelor’s in secondary education from Mississippi State University in 2014.

This valiant veteran now works as a 7th grade history teacher at Armstrong Middle School in Starkville, Mississippi. “People ask me all the time why I became a teacher after working hard in the military for 20 years,” says Darrell. “I say…I want to continue to serve my country and take care of our children.” He is as dedicated to his work with students as he was to his work in the military. “My goal is to show my students the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, without taking the joy away from the holiday,” asserts Darrell. “I want them to remember we can honor those who have given their lives for our country and appreciate what they have done while also cherishing the fact that we get to spend the day with friends and family.”

Here is the American hero and Chalkboard Champion with some of his kids. Thank you for all your service, Darrell!

America’s Wild West tamed by frontier schoolmarms

America’s Wild West was tamed in part due to the talented and dedicated women who served as frontier schoolteachers. The pioneering women who became teachers during this period of our nation’s history were indeed a special breed. At the turn of the century, females were expected to be dependent upon their husbands, fathers, or other male relatives. It was extremely unusual, and not at all encouraged, for a woman to support herself and function independently. Nevertheless, many intelligent and self-reliant women in search of personal freedom and adventure joined the Westward movement as schoolmarms.

The stereotype of a frontier schoolteacher was that of an unattractive spinster or a prim and proper young miss. In reality, she was often neither of those. Many of these ladies came from influential and affluent Eastern families. A few were filled with burning ambition, and others were seeking a better life, and perhaps some were seeking a husband of like mind. In general, though, they were dedicated practitioners of their profession. Despite primitive working conditions, uninviting classrooms, low wages, and overwork, these stalwart women introduced literacy, culture, and morality to the roughneck communities they served. A few of these teachers became missionaries, others became suffragettes, and one of them—Jeannette Rankin of Montana—even went on to become the first woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives!

Our society owes these frontier schoolmarms a great debt. Read more about pioneering teachers in my book, Chalkboard Champions, available through or Barnes and Noble. Click on the link to find out how to get a copy of the book. Enjoy!