Interview with Josh Petitt
When we were kids, our minds were blown when we saw teachers outside of school. It was so out of context, but mysteriously cool: we saw them as humans, rather than just as their professional selves.
Josh Petitt is a middle school English Language and English Language Arts teacher at St. Paul City School, a pre-k through eighth-grade charter school near the capital. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master of Arts in Teaching through Hamline University. Josh lives in Hugo with his wife, two daughters, ages ten and seven, as well as his son, who is three years old. The family also has a dog named Slipper.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
“As is usually the case with major decisions, there is no single reason. After earning my undergraduate degree, I tried a series of jobs over several years. Most of them paid reasonably well, but they also left me feeling incomplete. I knew I needed to look for something wherein I felt I could make a difference, wherein I felt I mattered beyond the bottom line. At that point, I started volunteering, and one assignment was at a middle school in Burnsville, MN, where I enthusiastically volunteered with one of their English as a Second Language classes. After the first day in that school, I knew I wanted to teach middle schoolers; I simply enjoyed the children that much. So why did I become a teacher? I suppose the easiest answer is that I enjoy spending time with adolescents.”
How many years have you been teaching?
“I am completing my eighth year as a licensed teacher. The first five years were as an English Language Learning teacher, but I have been a Language Arts teacher the last three. I made the shift partially because of staffing concerns at my school, and partially because I thought the dual license would lead to even more effective language education for my students.”
How do you know you have positively impacted a child or a child’s family?
“My way of teaching is and always has been trauma and emotion-informed. That means I know I have made a positive impact when a youngster or one of their family members shares something about their personal life outside of school. It is when someone confides in me, looking to me as the person they can trust. Certainly, I don’t completely ignore the instructional part of my job; it just means that I do not measure my success by performance on assessments. I measure it by the connections I make with the people I serve.”
Your teacher’s philosophy on a Bumper Sticker:
“Emotions then content.
They’re people first, scholars second.”
What was your most meaningful teaching experience you can think of (so far)?
“There’s a lot of these to pick from, but this one does stand out. The first year I taught a three month long media studies unit for one of my eighth-grade classes. It culminated in the students creating and presenting a piece of media with a clear purpose, intended audience, bias, and techniques that the rest of the class could analyze. That first year I received some of the most powerful middle-school work I have ever seen. Two people did brilliant videos about political concerns, one wrote a clever satire that advocated for better personal hygiene, one wrote an original song about modern-day slavery, while several more managed to complete powerful artistic mediums. In every case, the projects’ techniques supported the purpose and targeted specific audiences, and the essays explained it all exceptionally well. I was amazed by the students’ creativity, as well as their effectiveness in crafting media.”
The best professional advice you have ever received?
“One of my college professors told me that teaching is very similar to baseball: the best hitters only reach base forty percent of the time, so do the best teachers only succeed for everyone similarly rarely. Translation: It’s okay to fail, so long as reflection turns that failure into new efforts.”
Best teaching resource:
“Other teachers. Bouncing ideas off of others is, in my opinion, the best way to keep instruction fresh.”
Favorite season and why?
“Winter. Partially because it’s cold and partially because snow makes for fun play, and ice makes for equally fun activities.”
Have you ever considered running for President?
“No. There was a season in my life where I thought I could be a politician. But,I quickly learned I did not like the difficulty of approving policies or the slow movement of change during my tenure as the Board Chair for my school. I took the chairpersonship partially as a trial run of what public office might look like, but politics is not for me.”
Are aliens real?
“Almost certainly, but I don’t I expect to meet any of them. It strikes me that the intricacies and inherent dangers of space travel make the meeting of different life forms from different planets fairly unlikely. Maybe something in the future will prove me wrong.”
What do you think you cook or bake the best?
“I generally hate cooking. Like a lot. But I can prepare some very good mini-turkey meatloaves and dinner potatoes.”
Have you ever won anything? Big or small?
“In high school, I competed in Forensics (competitive speech). I competed in a little of both conventional and performance categories, earned trips to national tournaments in all four years, and received second in the state for a performative category my senior year. Also, once, while my family and I still did ECFE, I won a giant tub of children’s board games, which was more helpful at that time than the forensics wins.”
What would your custom bumper sticker say?
“It’s hard to remove these things.“
If you could buy one material thing, and money was not an issue, what would it be?
“Does the thing actually have to exist? If not, a teleportation machine. If so, a private jet. I love to travel, but I hate the process of getting places.”
What is the most important material possession(s) you have, and why?
“I own an entry-level specialized hybrid road bike that costs slightly more than $1000. This is my most important possession both because it is how I exercise, and also because I do not tend to be overly materialistic.”