This is part of an ongoing series of Q&As with New Mexico educators, parents, policy makers, wonks, leaders, and students. Find the entire series here.
Full Name: Joe Dan Lovato
Hometown: Las Vegas and Roy, NM
Current City: Albuquerque, NM
Grade(s)/Subject(s) Previously Taught: 6-8th grade Science, STEAM-H, Next-Step, SPED, and various electives ranging from Cryptozoology and Extraterrestrial/Paranormal Investigations to Introductory Guitar/Voice/Songwriting
School and District: La Resolana Leadership Academy
Joe Dan, you’re a New Mexican through and through. Tell readers more about you and your upbringing.
I was born in Las Cruces and grew up in the Las Vegas, NM area before moving to Roy during my 8th grade year. I am a proud graduate of Roy High School (2003). Though I consider both areas my stomping grounds, Roy is the place I call home. I grew up in a ranching and rodeoing family, though I was the “black sheep” of the family.
I was, and am, into music, art, sports, and science. In high school I was very involved in sports and excelled in basketball and track & field while participating in various organizations such as student council, 4-H, FHA, and Boy’s State to name a few. I also represented New Mexico at many different national basketball showcases. I was always involved in something.
I then met my amazing wife, Brandi, of nine years while attending Eastern New Mexico University in Portales. We are currently raising a beautiful 19-month-old girl, Joe Danna, and are in the process of trying to provide the same upbringing her parents had. This means lots of animals and even more chores! My family still has a ranch in Trujillo, NM where we try to go back home and help out as much as we can when time allows it.
So, given the variety of your upbringing, how did you get into teaching in the first place? And what keeps you in the fight?
I originally started in broadcast journalism, gaining experience and working for KENW as an on-air talent and doing production for News 3 New Mexico, a KRQE affiliate. I was also part of the production crew for Creative Living with Sheryl Borden which aired on PBS.
After a few years doing this, I realized I was not able to truly be myself and fulfill my vision to invoke change in individuals. After a couple of degree changes, I finally found my passion in education. As I mentioned, I earned a BA and MA in Education (Curriculum and Instruction) from ENMU before finishing my Educational Administration Licensure requirements this past year. And that isn’t the end of my learning journey as I hope to embark on a doctoral program at UNM in the near future.
I have stayed with education mainly because it’s a unique platform to encourage change and inspire others, just as I was inspired by the many teachers, professors, administrators, and coaches I was fortunate to have throughout my life. Teachers like Mrs. Conway (3rd grade educator at Paul D. Henry Elementary, Las Vegas, NM), Mr. Romero (band director at Memorial Middle School, Las Vegas, NM), and Dr. Loren “Doc” Mayer (science educator at Roy Municipal Schools, Roy NM) made profound impacts on my life.
Seeing my students and colleagues succeed is what keeps me “in the fight”. Education and the individuals receiving it are worth fighting for. I am more motivated than ever after being nominated and selected as a 2018 Teacher of the Year Finalist alongside another one of the teachers who had a great impact on my life, the ever so classy Mrs. Donna Hazen (English Language Arts at Roy Municipal Schools).
Besides being a dedicated educator, what else fuels your fire?
I am a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who has played with a variety of musicians and shared the stage with many different bands throughout the years. I was a member of the local progressive rock band “Blackwater Draw” between 2006 and 2015. I have since embarked on a solo career under the moniker “Joe Dan The Man”. I released my debut self-titled EP in 2015 with positive reviews and am currently working on a follow-up, full-length album and two separate side projects.
This past summer, I had the great honor of attending the 2018 New Mexico Teacher Summit as a co-facilitator with NMPED’s Math Specialist Patricia Carden before sitting on a Q&A panel with the Secretary of Education Ruszkowski. I was also able to perform for my colleagues alongside fellow educators and husband/wife musical duo Jill and Gary Bass!
I am also an artist and have been fortunate to have my artwork displayed at the Viva Vino New Mexico Wine Festival. I enjoy collecting items such as vintage guitars, amplifiers, antiques, rock, minerals, fossils, sports cards, memorabilia, autographs, and concert posters and silkscreens.
Lastly, I am a huge fan and have an enormous collection of Ghostbusters items. What can I say? I’m a big kid at heart and do not believe in growing up; only in maturing.
If you don’t mind sharing your hard earned wisdom, what are some important lessons you’ve learned in your time as an educator?
I believe, as Gandhi did, that we must, “Be the change we wish to see in the world”. I have this written on one of my boards and remind my students of it daily. Because of this, I am a person of action. I try to dedicate myself every day to living by this this quotation. Change is very difficult to accept for most individuals; however, it is the only thing that is certain.
As a self-described educational disruptor, I choose to challenge the status-quo of education. We are tasked with preparing our students for an uncertain future. Since it is uncertain, I believe we can make the future look how we want it to look. Through my years as an educator I have come to understand that education is not exclusive to academics and extends itself to the evolution of individuals into well-rounded, independent thinkers who are productive citizens in society.
I have also come to realize that anyone can learn something new as long as they keep an open mind and are willing to put in the work. It’s not how smart the individual is that creates success; it all comes down to how hard the individual is willing to work.
You have to be extremely patient in this field and be able to accept things that you do not necessarily agree with. Like anything else in life, sometimes we need to take chances; education is no different. Love what you do and do what you love! I know I sure do. Something my dad often tells me is, “Believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” This is true in life and is highly relatable when you work with young people.
What are you most excited about for this school year? And what role does coffee play in your teacher universe?
I am most excited about making an impact on my students and seeing their successes and dreams become a reality. I serve in the New Mexico Teacher Liaison Network and have been accepted into the Teach Plus Network. I am excited to learn more about how educational policy operates and functions. Participating in these networks not only gives my colleagues and me a voice but, more importantly, gives a voice to the students and parents we serve. I am also having a great time introducing agriculture to my students here in the inner city.
I actually do not drink coffee or sodas, as caffeine and I do not get along very well. If you have ever met me, or been around me for long, you know what I am talking about as I have an abundance of energy. I do drink hot tea daily through, with a spoonful of local New Mexico honey.
As a family person yourself, you know how important family support is for students. What do you say to families about the best ways to support both their students and teachers to encourage a strong working relationship?
Both my parents are educators. My mother Miss Jeanette Garcia teaches pre-k in Roy, NM and is close to retirement. My father Coach Jose Lovato recently retired with almost 30 years in education. Though they have been separated for some time now, they have always been supportive and very encouraging of my dreams.
I also owe a great deal of my who I am to my grandparents; they were critical in my upbringing. My grandfather, and “cowboy legend”, Levi Garcia didn’t have much of a formal education and worked his fingers to the bone to find great success. Although he loved what he did, and was darn good at it, he valued a formal education. He wanted his kids, grandkids, and great-grandchildren to finish school and receive the education that he never had. Since I was a young man, my grandpa would always remind me that an education would allow me to work with my mind. Though he has since passed on from this life, this is where the root of hard work was instilled into me and where the constant quest for knowledge began.
As an educator, consistent, positive communication is key in all settings. The responsibility of education is 50% the school and 50% the family. We are both, however, 100% responsible for the love and compassion required to make such a great impact on these young individuals as well as on one another.
All our families have dreams and goals and deserve a fair opportunity to experience success and test their capabilities. When communicating both sides must be honest and have common ground on goals that should be achieved and monitored. Opportunity for parents and students to partake in such a relationship should be offered by the school as much as possible.
Lastly, and crucially, are you a red or green person?
As a native New Mexican, I do enjoy Christmas from time to time, however, I am a proud green snob. Green chile on everything please!