Behind the Desk with Mr. Howard


Camille Socol and Ella Jones


Mr. Howard is a social studies teacher of six years that became a Tosa West teacher in December of 2021, about a month before the end of first semester last year.

Did your own high school experience affect your career choices?

I’d say so. I had some pretty good teachers in high school that helped me and influenced me to be a better student. I was actually a really bad student from seventh grade to midway through sophomore year. Midway through my sophomore year, I was a D and F student and I just didn’t really care or participate or do any work. But [at that time], I had a couple teachers who really pushed me to be better and I started getting straight A’s. I got straight A’s almost all the way through, Junior and Senior year, and you know, looking back on that, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college. My life would have been a lot different, but it really turned it around. I got almost a 4.0 in college. I want to have that effect on kids, whether it’s academically or emotionally. I just want to be a supportive person for kids, especially during COVID and all the stuff going on right now.


You teach US history, Social problems and Economics. Why did you choose that subject matter? Why Social Studies as opposed to Science, Math, or English?

English would have been my second choice, but I genuinely just liked my social studies classes in high school and in college. So, I just gravitated based on interest. I really liked psychology, history and pretty much all of it. I’m not super great at math, or science, either, even though I think they’re interesting and fun. I just don’t think that I have the ability to teach those skills necessarily.


In his time teaching, Mr. Howard has subbed in the Madison area, taught summer school at ‘Vel Philips Juvenile Justice Center’, as well as having been a Middle School Social Studies teacher in Brown Deer before beginning his time in Wauwatosa.

What’s different about working at West as opposed to working at the Juvenile Justice Center or Brown Deer Middle School?

I would say [compared to] middle school, the high school kids are just more mature and you can give them more independence. I also like it because you can have more discussions with kids. There’s higher level thinking, and less crazy behaviors. You know, kids generally are pretty well behaved [at West]. The detention center is very different because in that setting, kids are not allowed to do much. School is one of the few times of the day that they’re allowed out of their cell. It’s tough for the kids in there to care about school because they are going through a lot personally. So really, it’s hard to reach them educationally. And also, they’re very different age levels. I’d have groups of twelve boys, and there’d be ages from twelve to seventeen. It’s hard to go in and teach math to kids at such different age levels. The older kids will get bored because it’s not hard enough but the younger kids will struggle. So that was kind of tough.


You spoke about this a little bit, but how was the transition going from such a different environment like the detention center or the middle school to now being at a high school? Was that transition hard for you?

The only thing that was hard was that the content was harder. I had to learn how to teach the social problems class, economics, and a new US history class. Whereas when I taught eighth grade, I only taught US history; the same class three times a day and that was it. And it was pretty easy to teach. Here, it’s three different [classes] every day. That was a lot of work but now that that’s kind of built up for me, it’s a lot easier because it’s less stressful. I feel like the kids here really want to learn, and want to be here for the most part. So I don’t have to do the work of twisting their arm to do anything; they just do it.


Why did you decide to come to West, as opposed to a different school?

Well, it kind of landed in my lap. I would have chosen to be here regardless, but a position opened up mid year, and I had always wanted to teach at a high school. I think Tosa is a really good district. I just wanted to break into it, so when the opportunity came along, and the door opened, I walked through.


What expectations or excitement do you have going into your first full year of teaching here as opposed to half a school year?

I’m just excited to have more of a presence, and gain more respect from students and staff both. I felt like last year, people were already established, and everybody had their cliques and things like that, teacher wise. Now people realize that I’m sticking around this year, and I think people approach me differently because of that. As far as students, when I came in mid year, the kids that I was teaching had gone without a teacher for a long time. So it was tough to get them back to doing school. But this year, it’s nice because I get to start off the year with all of my students, in my own classroom, and I can set expectations, and get into it right away. 


Currently, there’s a lot of teachers deciding to go into different career fields. Twenty-five percent of the staff at West left last year. What is your motivation to stay in the teaching field while so many teachers are leaving?

I think what matters to me is my relationship with my students and my ability to help them connect to what they’re learning. And I feel like if I’m doing that, I’m successful, and I can go home happy. Yes, sometimes things that are stressful outside the classroom. There’s staff meetings, political things, and school [events] that can stress me out. But over the years, I’ve just sort of built this divide in my mind where I separate myself from it, because I know I let it eat at me. It deteriorates my ability to build relationships with kids and be an effective teacher. When I come to work, just like you guys, I focus on teaching the good. That’s what I’m doing. I feel like as long as I can do that, it’s sustainable. I think sometimes people make teachers feel like they always need more and more, but as we can see, 25% of teachers are leaving school. So I’m kind of trying to avoid that. I push to [not] be that teacher that devotes 16 hours of their day to teaching. When I’m a teacher, [I’m] a good teacher. When I go home, I got my own life outside of school. I can maintain that level of positivity that I bring to class, that I really couldn’t bring if I was devoting too much of myself to running five clubs and having all these positions in school. I did [that] at my last job. I was somebody involved in a lot of different things at my last school, but here at this school, I’m starting slow.


At West, there are a lot of extracurricular activities. We know you’ve only been here for a short time, but do you advise any clubs here?

I do. I am the advisor of the Nintendo Switch club. It’s an up and coming club, and we have a meeting next week. Right now it’s a small group, but we’re looking to expand. 


What do you do in the club?

[Students] come in, plug the Nintendo Switch up to my smart board, and play Super Smash Bros after school once a week. What we’re looking to do though, is we want to do March Madness style brackets, and encourage everybody around the school to come in and sign up. We can do competitions, and play other games like Mario Kart, Nintendo Switch Sports, and things like that. It could be fun. I’m not too much into regular sports. So I don’t think you see me coaching soccer, volleyball or things like that. But you know, as far as potentially getting involved in other clubs in the future; we’ll see.


Besides Nintendo Switch and video games, are there any other hobbies that you have outside of work?

So I love music. I pretty much listen to music most of my days, if I’m not teaching or sleeping. I usually have music on all the time. I love exploring new artists. I also play the guitar, and I’ve been playing since I was 14. I’m not an amazing guitarist by any means, but it’s kind of a therapeutic thing for me. I just pick it up and play to ease my mind a little bit. I like cooking as well, and exercise. I’m kind of a health nut a little bit. I just like to stay in shape and eat healthy. I have two dogs as well, they were rescues from the south. I’m also a pretty social person. So I really like building strong relationships with my family and friends. Any chance I have to just spend time with other people, and build new relationships, strengthen old relationships, and friendships, I take that opportunity. 


Going back to music, what’s your favorite genre?

I really like a few different types of things. I like a lot of rap music. Whether it’s modern rap, or 90s hip hop, or hip hop. I also really like alternative music and indie music as well. I went to see Kendrick Lamar this summer at the Fiserv Forum and I really like him. 


Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today and learn more about your life in and out of school.

Thank you.