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: Sonny Sapien
Hometown: Carlsbad, NM
Current City: Albuquerque, NM
Grade(s)/Subject(s) Previously Taught: 4th and 5th Grade Reading
District: Mission Achievement & Success (MAS) Charter School
These chats are dubbed as “Coffee Breaks”, so what does your caffeine routine look like? And what role does coffee play in your teacher life?
With respect to these “Coffee Breaks”, I can honestly say that my caffeine routine is nonexistent. Nonexistent to the point of being a non-coffee drinker because I feel as though coffee is an acquired taste, which is not compatible with my palette. Instead, the energy that I rely on stems from an early morning gym routine mixed with an ADHD personality. These two forces keep me going strong.
Where are you from and what is your family’s New Mexico story?
Growing up, my mother was single handedly a huge reason why I excelled in all areas of my education. She continuously pushed me to do my best. And, when my best was not good enough, including phone calls home from teachers for misbehavior, she always had a way to reel me back in with a much needed reality check.
Even so, she had her fair share of moments when it came to bailing me out of a time crunch. I am the world’s biggest procrastinator, which came to light during my senior year of high school. She was annoyed with me for waiting until the last minute to complete my senior project, which took an entire day’s worth of energy and complaining for me to finally get done.
Overall, it’s moments like these that truly keep me fired up and running. I strive to be that type of role model for my students to learn from. I never had it easy and, although I excelled in school, times have changed. With society influencing every generation of students differently, current students are in dire need of not only being college and career ready, but also prepared to tackle real-life challenges.
You’ve spoken about the “joy factor”, a “culture of error”, and Teach Like a Champion 2.0. Paint the picture of what that looks like in your classroom.
Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion 2.0 has made me into a better teacher because the rigor, depth, and applicability of each technique has made it possible for my students to learn at such a high-level. Because of this, I would describe my classroom as “enticing and energetic.”
On any given day, a stroll down the 4th and 5th Grade wing would likely encounter my students chanting and/or making sounds with their hands. Joy Factor is a way for my students and I to celebrate the work of learning, which is heavily conducive to a Culture of Error that promotes a safety net for my students because they feel comfortable making and discussing their mistakes to the extent of me spending less time hunting for errors and more time fixing them.
When you’re not in your classroom or school, what will readers find you doing?
When I am not in my classroom or school, you can find me Snapchatting my way through life, binge reading books on my Kindle, making people laugh (disclaimer: I am a naturally funny person), charming my way out of precarious situations, and geeking out with all of the lesson plans I annotate and intellectually prep for.
What advice do you have for parents who want to support their student and teacher, but don’t always know the best ways how to do so?
I would advise parents to always remember that they are their child’s first and most important teacher. And even when their children head off to school, the learning that they do together will never stop. This is a significantly important concept to remember because parents are the support system that students need to teach them right from wrong, to teach them that character matters, and to teach them that striving for academic success is the necessary blueprint for making a remarkable life for themselves. I have always told my students that they can be and/or do anything they want in life. BUT they have to work hard for it.
And, lastly: red or green—and why?
Well, anyone who knows me completely understands that my skinny boy fitness game only allows for a “certain” group of foods to be eaten at all times—choices. However, when I do indulge, I am team red chile all the way. Now, not just any red chile. In fact, if the finished product is not a dish made by my grandma, mom, or tia—I am not about it.