The first thing that stands out about Andrew Hubbuch’s resume is that he drives each morning from his home in upscale Ponte Vedra Beach to his job at Arlington’s low-income neighborhood school, Justina Road Elementary. What’s more, he arrives by 7:30 a.m. and often stays until 8 p.m. — when he heads back home to his wife and eight-month-old baby.
A committed educator, Hubbuch says he is following his ambition. He is also a positive male role model to the scores of blended family children who have been dropping in and out of his classroom for the past seven years. Hubbuch was a 2011 Florida Blue Teacher of the Year finalist.
Did you always want to be a teacher?
I did. I’ve worked with kids my whole life. I started out young, my mom ran a day care through our home so I was always around kids. Growing up, I spent my high school and college summers working at summer camps. Eventually I went to college, got my teaching degree and took a job with a developmental learning center in New Jersey where I’m from. That’s where I got my special education background.
How did you get into that area of education?
I was certified regular education K-6, but a friend of my parents was into teaching and had a special education background. She helped get me into a job as a teacher’s assistant, and I really enjoyed it. I was working with kids with autism. And it was pretty much a one-on-one experience with the kids — I built a strong attachment to those children. I really felt like I was doing something to help. So during my first few years at Justina I had a regular education classroom, but we have an inclusion class. It is still considered a regular education setting, but kids with special education needs are in the classroom.
How is inclusion model working?
This is my seventh year teaching and it’s pretty much been that way since I was teaching. When I was a kid, students who had trouble would be pulled out of classroom. As far as best practices, they say it benefits special education students to be in classroom where they’re getting regular education curriculum. They get to see what else is going on and hear conversations. They’re immersed in it. Just because of that they do better. Also, I’ve found that it’s good to pair them up with students who are excelling. Inclusion has been a very positive experience.
How do you feel about the number of students in your classroom, is it easier when there are fewer students to teach?
The biggest challenge in classroom instruction is students being able to focus. The more students you have, the more distractions there are. For me personally, it makes more paperwork — which I don’t mind, that comes with the territory. The hard part is getting to know each of my students at level I want to know them personally and academically. Class size makes a huge difference. A class size of 14 or 15 is a great number. There have been times when I’ve gotten to pull groups back to work with me more and they get individualized attention. With a bigger group, it’s hard to meet with everybody every single day.
Do you do differentiated learning in classroom?
We always start out with the lesson — talking about the reading or math or science as a whole group. Everybody gets same introductory lesson. After group lesson, we break up into different reading groups in different level. Then do own work on reading with independent reading. Since we’re an IB theme for primary year, they want you to have the kids all day. We try to infuse a lot of reading into all the subjects.
You are wearing many different hats in the IB environment and special education arenas — not to mention other activities. Is that what a teacher should expect to do in this teaching environment? Is this typical?
I think it is. That’s one thing that I struggle with is doing so many things. I’ve done so many extra activities, there’s Saturday school, tutoring, TeamUp — I’ve been on different training committees, I’m the union representative, It’s a lot. But the more you’re involved in, the more well rounded of a teacher you become. You make more connections in the community and throughout DCPS. The more people you meet, the more chances you get to bounce ideas off people.
Saying yes allows you more run ins with more peole?
Yes. But you have to know when to say no. This year I’m trying to put some things on back burner that I’ve been doing. I really want to focus on things I have more passion for.
What do you have passion for?
Before IB, I was a reading and writing teacher for the fifth grade. Since then, I’ve taken a lot of math and science training and I really enjoy that. The kids really enjoy it, too, the teaching is a lot more hands-on. So I’m trying to get more involved with different math and science groups. I’ve been doing more community planning for the grade level in those areas.
Do you have enough time to plan and prepare during 8-3?
That’s funny, we’re here from 7:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. and no — there is definitely not enough time during that time. We are lucky here with the IB program, we do have full resource time. So kids do get resource times each day. That’s 50 minutes each day — which is a lot more than many schools have. That does give us time, but it’s not nearly enough. We have to address paperwork, guided reading lesson plans, differentiated groups, responsive intervention for struggling students and other plans for ones who need extra enrichment. So it’s a lot. There’s no way to get it done from 7:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. I am here at 7:30 a.m. every day, and in the past up until this year I’d be here until between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Do the teachers collaborate, how does that happen, is there time for that during a day?
Every Monday our resource period is called a Monday Meeting — as a grade level, we discuss plans for the week. That’s what we’re required to do. There is one other fifth grade teacher now and ESE teacher who plans with us. I plan for science right now, one plans for math and the other plans for reading and writing. And we share those lesson plans. But have to review them and individualize them to our teaching style and the students that we have. We meet twice a day for five minutes or 45 minutes to an hour. Regardless, we meet on a daily basis, checking in and asking each other things like, “how did the lesson go?” what direction are we going to go in tomorrow?” We’re constantly meeting and collaborating and talking bout what worked and didn’t work.
What are some of your teaching strengths and best practices?
The math and science is what I’m diving into, as well as our standards and benchmarks. Those are areas I’m focusing on. There are certain things that are tested that we really have to know. It always comes down to if we’re teaching to test.
Do you? Teach to test?
I would like to think that I don’t, but it’s reality now that there are certain things that need to be covered in a short amount of time. We really need to focus on those times to have those kids pass the FCAT
Some teachers say, we all know we have standards to teach and the test just makes sure we’re on task?
Well, the standards are the test. It is scrutinized. To me, its not the be all end all. There are a lot of life skills we have to infuse into our lesson. But it’s a standards based world. Starting this year our evaluations are based on 50 percent student achievement. We have to motivate them to do well.
How do you motivate students to do well then? To perform well and be on top of those standards?
It’s a lot of positive reinforcement, letting students know we’re in this together and that there are certain things they need to know. They need to understand there’s a spot we need to get to at certain points throughout the year. It does sometimes start out stressful. It comes from federal level, down to state, down to district, principal and down to us. And sometimes the stress gets brought down to students. Sometimes it feels like we need to keep going when sometimes a step back would be a better choice. We try to balance that, try to keep going with students who can keep going, but also do some of our response intervention with kids who are struggling. It’s a tough balance.
Have you had any success stories in classroom that motivate you personally?
The way I measure success, is not by FCAT scores — which are important — but by whether my students are succeeding past the 5th grade.
Do you follow up?
I do. Sometimes they stop by here once a month or every so often. If I know who teachers are in middle school, I’ll try to catch up with them every once in a while. Sometimes it’s hard because around here, the population is so mobile. I have kids coming in and out, in and out.
Tell me about that and how it impacts your teaching?
This happens all the time. The neighborhood around the school is more of a lower income area. A lot of kids that are leaving here are moving because their parents want something better for them — so they’re going to another area. A lot of kids at Justina are blended families, or, kids living with grandparents or aunts and uncles.
How does that affect your job?
It makes a it a lot more difficult. When I was a kid, we’d know a month before that we had a new student coming to our classroom. Here, I’ll be in the middle of teaching, and a new kid will arrive on the fourth week into school. Parents will show up, get their student enrolled and they’ll come straight into my class. The district does have a learning schedule, so the kids are around the same spots — but it’s a difficult transition for students and getting to know them.
In your situation, how do you reach out to families — how do you involve parents in your classroom?
I have an open door policy. As long as they give me a call or stop in the office they can see me anytime. It’s gotten better, I think. During my first couple of years teaching, it was a little challenging as far as contacting parents and following up.
How did you change that?
I just had more open lines of communication with parents. I started being in more constant contact with them, whether it’s good or bad. There was once student I had this week who wasn’t where she needed to be as far a paying attention in class. I called parent and shared some of my concerns. Then the student started getting better, so I called the mom and shared some of the positive things she was doing. A lot of times kids are always told what not to do versus what to do. The more positive comments we give, the more they start thinking they can do it, whether it’s work or behavior.
How does being a male teacher resonate with your students?
I think it’s great for these students A lot of these kids are in single-family homes. A lot of them are without a father figure in their lives.
Do they look up to you?
A lot of the boys look up to me as a positive influence. And I try to include the boys in a lot of things we do, they come down and help out in the morning. I get to know them.
Do you have different strengths as a male?
I wouldn’t say strengths. I think having that being male teacher is big for a lot of the students who don’t have fathers in their lives — seeing a positive role model is important.
I’d think ther would need to be more of that. Do you feel a heavy weight of responsibility from boys looking up to you are role model?
I do. I feel that that’s why I’m here from 7:30 to 7 at night. I used to stay and get work done here before go home. Have a seven month home now, so now I’m taking it home. I feel a tremendous responsibility to make sure that I have all my ducks in a row sot that when I come in before bell rings that I’m ready for those students and ready to teach them and for them to learn what they’re supposed to be learning and grow.
Have you been more than a teacher to any of your students?
It’s hard to teach here and then live so far away. There’s a boy I had in my class last year. Beginning in the fourth grade, I started mentoring him. He was one who had some behavioral problems. I’d talk to him about what was going on. He’d really improved by time he got to my class.
Is more mentoring needed?
Connections are a huge thing. If students have a connection with a positive adult role model, it will transform them 10-fold. Their confidence will increase, they’ll start having that ‘I can’ attitude. Just having someone to check in with them periodically can be very important.
Do you think parents are doing all they can or they can do more here?
There are some parents who are very involved. There are parents who I talk to on a weekly basis. Usually, those parents are the same ones who come to PTA or TeamUp activities or assemblies, they’re the parents who have lunch with their kids. They’re the same ones everytime. I know it’s hard for a lot of parents when they’re working or whatever is going on in their lives. But they need to make that time. You only have one shot with your children and it’s important to be involved in their school and everything going on in their lives. It could be as easy as sitting down and checking their homework, or coming to an event.
If you could tell parents of your students one thing what would it be?
I’d tell them to be involved and to make sure their students know that they’re involved — also to get their kids into reading. Districtwide, our test scores were low in reading. There’s a big reading initiative this year that the county has started called “Read it Forward.” We have seen some amazing statistics about how brain activity is affected by reading and the impact it has on college entry tests. The amount kids are reading plays a huge part in their lives whether they’re struggling or excelling readers. Kids need to be reading. My students have to read 150 pages a week. That’s a lot, but it’s necessary for them to make the connections. Reading is involved in every subject that we do. Science FCAT is basically a reading test. If they can read and understand what they’re being asked, will translate hugely into science and other areas.
What do yo suggest is best book for students in your class
One of my favorites I’ve read aloud with student and read myself is called Hoot, Carl Hiaasen. It’s a really fun book.
Is there anything you want to address or share with people in the community about what you do?
I want the community to know we’re all in this together. Whether you have children or don’t have children, what we do in our lives and how we act as role models is important. Part of being a responsible adult is being a good citizen, and getting involved — even doing something as simple as voting. Being involved in your community is important and the value of education is extremely important. As a society, what we’re lacking is a value of an education. It will pay its way 10-fold later on in life. It’s so important that education is valued and we all see it as a gateway to their future.