When new third-graders enter Joseph Sutera’s class each fall, they’re not too worried about meeting the new teacher or learning the new curriculum. Instead, they’re eager to play “flutes.”
Although he’s not a music teacher, Joseph Sutera has made a habit of teaching music in his third-grade classroom. Therefore, entering students expect to sing songs and play the recorder in Mr. Sutera’s class.
“I love it and they love it,” Sutera said. “From the first day of school, they say ‘Are we going to do flutes this year?’ They all call it flutes.”
This is Sutera’s seventh year as a teacher at . He was first introduced to the Santee school as a student teacher while earning his credential at .
As a student teacher, Sutera witnessed the excitement of the students when the district music teacher visited the school.
“The kids absolutely welcomed it and looked forward to her visit,” he said. “I thought it was fantastic. I thought that’s the way education was. It’s how I grew up.”
Once he became a teacher, Sutera wanted his students to continue to learn and experience music even though the music teacher no longer visited their school.
“It’s a great lesson and I hope that it becomes a passion for the kids,” he said.
Sutera, who sings and plays the bass, doesn’t describe himself as a , but he comes from a very musical background. Many of his family members are “better and more classically trained,” he said. His grandmother is a chorus member, his mother is a flutist, his brother was in a jazz band and his uncle is a music teacher.
“Music is one of the few things that I want to do in my off time, and if I can bring it here to the classroom and share that passion and knowledge and inspire some of these students to go on and be musicians, that’s probably better than me doing it myself,” Sutera said.
Sutera's use of music in his classroom has not only inspired his students to learn how to sing on key for the and practice the recorder for the end-of-the-year program, but incorporate music in daily activities.
As part of the Word Master program, Sutera’s third-graders learn new vocabulary words each week. The students have to research assigned words, learn the grammatical functions of the words and essentially become “masters” of the words.
When the program was first introduced to his class, Sutera’s students created a theme song to the beat of the Ghostbusters tune: ““If you don’t know what a new word means, who you gonna call? Word Masters!”
“It builds confidence,” Sutera said. “By the time that we get the first word written, they’re all fired up and ready to go and confident that they’re going to be Word Masters. It’s really cool and they do great at it.”
Sutera builds excitement for learning by other means, too.
Every Friday, he embarks on a “running” program with his students. The students “travel” to national parks to learn about fitness and the outdoors.
In addition, Sutera has recently received a grant that will go toward a class set of binoculars so the children can look for and learn about birds.
“We just try to have a well-rounded classroom,” he said. “There are all these little things that I feel keep it interesting and keep everyday a little different than the day before.”
Carlton Oaks Principal praised Sutera’s creativity.
“He’s just one of these individuals that’s not only a natural with kids and a natural in the classroom, but he has compassion and a passion for learning,” Pierce said.
Sutera’s passion for teaching is evident to all those around him, Pierce said. In fact, he was recently nominated to the district as a possible candidate for .
“Everyday he comes to work joyful, happy to greet the kids,” Pierce said. “It comes across in his classroom because he is just so enthusiastic, so the kids come across that way, too.”
While there are many reasons why he enjoys teaching, Sutera said his favorite part about his job is helping his students achieve “little victories” each time they learn a new skill.
“I get to see a lot of laughter and smiles and a lot of tiny victories all the time,” he said. “This makes them happy, and it makes them smile, and it makes them confident and it wears off on me. It makes me happy, and it makes me smile and it makes me confident.
“It seems like an odd thing to say you like your job, but I think that’s the truth. I enjoy it a ton because they’re fun and they’re smiling and they’re excited. I think you can go to a lot of jobs and not see that everyday.”