Every so often Nic Vasquez will have a friend pass along an article that claims people who wear unconventional socks make good leaders. If that’s the case, what’s on Vasquez’s feet shows that MSTA is in good hands. The new president has a penchant for silly socks, amassing a collection of 50-60 pairs with various prints and patterns.
“I often have students yell at me in the cafeteria, ‘Mr. V, what socks do you have on?’” Vasquez said. “My socks don’t always match, and sometimes students will point that out. If having mismatched socks is the worst thing that happens to me, I’m doing pretty well.”
Serving as MSTA’s president isn’t the only new role for Vasquez this year. He spent the first 14 years of his career teaching various levels of vocal music but has now left the classroom to serve as the instructional coach for Excelsior Springs High School.
“When you’re in the classroom, you’re really focused on what’s going on in that particular area, so I really appreciate being able to see what’s going on at the school level and at the district level.” Vasquez said. “I like being able to be that support. Throughout the school year, things can get chaotic and hectic, and I enjoy being able to be a calming voice and help people stay on track.”
Much like serving as an instructional coach helps him get a broader view of his district, serving in leadership roles with MSTA has allowed Vasquez to get a different view of education in Missouri.
“You start to see a bigger picture of what education is and what it means to make a difference and make an impact on your circle,” Vasquez said.
Along with new roles in school and with MSTA, Vasquez’s family is about to have some changes as well. At this year’s convention he became engaged to fellow member Kate Mitchell. Their blended family will include six children: Aiden (10), Jackson (7) and Mia (5) Vasquez, and Mackenzie (9), Ried (6) and Lydia (3) Handke.
Q. Why did you become a teacher?
A. I had a really great experience in high school. I connected with my band teacher and my choir teacher. I always knew that I wanted to do something where I could make a difference with people and make an impact. I didn’t always know what that would look like, but because of the positive experience that I had in those classes, it seemed natural to teach and to teach music, and I haven’t regretted any of it.
Q. How did you get involved with MSTA?
A. I didn’t start teaching until November, so I wasn’t a member my first year of teaching. When I went to St. Joe, and was at the beginning teacher meeting, somebody handed me a membership form, and said, “you need to be in this association.” So I said “Ok.” I signed the form, and that was all that I knew. It just looked like the thing to do at that district.
Later in my career, when I was teaching in Maryville, I was asked to be a part of the region board. Erin Burnham and Mindy Walker (field service coordinators) said, “We have a really great opportunity for you.” Throughout my life it’s been hard for me to say no to things that might better me, and so I said “sure I’ll do it.” I got a better view of MSTA and what was happening statewide. Somewhere along the way, my name got moved to the legislative committee, and I got an email from Suz Conner (administrative assistant for governmental relations.) I don’t know how my name got on that, but that’s when the fire got started for me. I liked seeing the legislative part of MSTA.
The Capitol visit was the first time that I had attended any event with state legislators. Actually meeting them and having the opportunity to explain the importance of what we do and how the decisions they make translate to the classroom. MSTA does wonderful work being able to meet with legislators and educating our members about that process.
Q. How has serving in MSTA leadership benefitted you?
A. It’s been fantastic opportunity. When you look at MSTA from the top to the bottom, from headquarters to our CTAs, we’re all about relationships. So, as a person, it’s given me access to meeting people. As teachers, depending on what we teach and where we teach and who we teach with, it’s very easy to become isolated and feel like we’re on an island. Whether you’re attending Leadership (Conference), or Convention or a region event, or even a CTA event, it shows that we are not alone. We are together, even though we teach different disciplines, we all started to teach because we have a passion for teaching.
Q. How would you encourage someone to take a leadership role with MSTA?
A. One of the many beauties of MSTA or your CTA is that there are leadership roles and opportunities that fit almost any personality type. So if you are looking for something, and you have time and want to challenge yourself, maybe seek a more visible or more time-intensive role. If you simply enjoy numbers and you’re responsible for your family budget, maybe you can serve as your treasurer.
I think it’s important to find ways to be a part of MSTA and your CTA that fit who you are as a person so you don’t get burnt out and it doesn’t just become one more thing on your to-do list. I haven’t heard from anybody that they have a bad taste in their mouth after taking on a leadership role. It’s more likely that someone tries something, they like it and so they try something else.
Q. What are some goals for your year as president
A. One of my big goals is to continue to increase membership and membership engagement. I think it’s really important for us to be welcoming and inviting to our members. A concern I have with any organization I’m a part of, is I never want it to become a club. I never want it to feel like, “Well, this person has been doing it for 20 years, so they always have to do it, so if you do it, you have to ask them.” We want what’s best for all of us. I want to be that welcoming and inviting voice to show people that we’re passionate about education, we’re passionate about teaching, we’re passionate about each other. This is a great way to build those relationships.
I also want to empower our leaders. I hope people don’t think that as president, I have the answer to every question they ask. I don’t see that as my role. For example, my buddy Jon Sorens is the AB&R chair. If someone comes to me with a question about creating a bylaw or speaking at convention, I’m going to tell them what I know, but more importantly, I’m going to get them in contact with Jon. I don’t want to steal that leadership opportunity from Jon. We are this fantastically well-run organization that is by the people and for the people, and you can ask a question of anybody.
Q. What are you looking forward to as president?
A. I’m looking forward to going around the state to see people from every corner, and what their CTA is like and how their region is doing. I think we’re good at recognizing people where they are. I think that’s really inviting. I’m really looking forward to seeing and experiencing that. I’ll put a lot of miles on my car, but it’s exciting.
I’m really honored and proud to be the president, I’m grateful that people took the chance to say “Hey we see something in you.” I’m really proud to represent Missouri teachers and do what needs to be done, but I’m just one guy. Come talk to me and I’d love to hear about your experience.
Q. What are some challenges teachers are facing now?
A. Teachers are facing such a time crunch. The time pressure of keeping your curriculum updated, creating your lesson plans, getting your assessments done, doing your part on the committees you’re supposed to be a part of, the bus duty and lunch duty, and then oh, yeah, I also need some time for my own family. That’s what I hear people say when they talk about being overwhelmed.
Q. How do you encourage burnt-out teachers?
A. Compartmentalize. Ask yourself: What can I do today that is going to feel like a win? Can I finish something that I’ve started today? What can I do to start compartmentalizing? It’s like the old saying, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, like everything else. If you’re looking at all the things you have to get done, you end up not being any good at any of them because you have so many spinning plates.
And also set some boundaries. Recognize that not everything is going to get done today, so what am I going to do today. And understanding that because I can’t get everything done, I’ve got to let it go. Not to the point that I’m not being effective at my job, but that I have to get away and carve out a specific time, whether it’s for physical activity, or making music, or spending time with my family or reading a book, making time for those things. If you’re constantly filling everyone else’s cup, your cup empties out pretty fast. My mom used to tell me, “Nic, you can’t burn the candle at both ends. Eventually, it catches up and you’re not good to yourself or anybody else.” As teachers, we’re so passionate and we want to do everything we can for everybody else all the time. Sometimes we feel like we’re doing something wrong when we take time for ourselves, “I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be grading papers or working on a lesson plan.” That’s all important and are things that have to get done, but eventually, you have to take a step back.
Q. How does MSTA help people compartmentalize?
A. There’s a huge bank of relationships that we have. There’s no reason why we should be reinventing the wheel every time. We have access to enormous amounts of information through each other. There’s got to be someone out there who has already had this problem, who has a lesson plan that works, who has done this before successfully, who has some bit of information that I need, will they just share it with me? Will they help me out? That’s member engagement and member involvement. There are so many people who are great at so many different things. Get connected with as many people as you can when you go to an event. I understand that not everybody is like me and wants to talk to everybody, but take a risk and make one or two connections at each event you go to and think about what that could mean.
Q. What are some moments that motivate you as a teacher?
A. Some of my best memories are when we would have events outside the normal school day, whether it would be a competition or a performance for fun. It takes time, it takes effort, but it’s what you do. You love your kids, so you want to give them opportunities and experiences, and like I said before, it’s why I became a teacher. Some kids might not be able to get out to do those things with their families.
There would often be kids that would say, “Mr. V, thanks for taking time to do this.” Just to know that they recognize the value in the things that we were doing, and that it is something special and unique, and that we need to cherish those moments. That’s kind of an adult skill to recognize that. It was especially special when they would say, “Thanks for taking time away from your family to let us do this.” Because I would talk about my kids and my family all the time, so for them to recognize that this is a big deal was great. I love those times when kids connect what you’re doing to the real world. To realize that I’m not a robot, we’re all people with feelings and emotions.
Q. What do you like to do outside of school?
A. I love to spend time with my family. We’re pretty busy all the time. We like to explore the world and go do things, whether by ourselves or with family. My parents live just a couple miles from me, so we see them quite often.
Any time I have the opportunity to get my feet in the sand and feel some warm water and the sea breeze, I’m all about that.
As a musician I love to make music with my friends, whatever that looks like. I’m also teaching an adult music class for 11 people through our career center here. I’d been asked to teach a guitar class before, but when I was teaching in a music classroom, I didn’t want to add another music event to my plate. Now that I’m out of the music classroom, I still need to fulfill that need, that joy of making music with people. Some of the people in the class have played guitar many years ago, and some are just starting for the first time. I have one student who is a mom, and she said she went home a couple of weeks ago and played for her family and she was so excited because they recognized the songs. It’s been a good time.
Q. What’s something on your bucket list?
A. Simple things, like I’d like to go to New York at Christmastime. I’d like to go see what that looks like. I’d like to go to some really obscure tropical place, like the places they show on Bizarre Foods. I’m so envious of the places he goes and the culture he experiences and the people he meets. I’m so fascinated by people.
Q. If you could go to any concert, of any artist living or dead, who would it be?
A. The Beatles. Hands down.
Q. What’s the favorite concert you’ve ever been to?
A. That’s really difficult. For instance, I’ve performed at the Lincoln Center with my students, and that was a great experience. But, then I also just went to see the Eagles and Jimmy Buffet, and both of those concerts were amazing.
I’m really into documentaries, especially about music or musicians. I wish I had seen the documentary about the Eagles before I saw them in concert. It’s so fascinating to see how these musicians create something, and what it takes for it to become a hit, and then how do they sustain it to be in the music industry for so long.