A few weeks ago, while standing on the sidelines of a Star Wars birthday party with the other parents who were on birthday party duty, I learned that my youngest son’s kindergarten teacher, Mr. V., was leaving Edmonds Elementary. If you have young children in the Edmonds School District, you have likely heard tales of the legendary Mr. V. from parents who are smiling, if not from happiness, from relief that their mostly-ready-for-school 5- or 6-year-old is in good hands.
In non-primary-school talk, Mr. V. is Joel Villalobos, a teacher at Edmonds Elementary for the last six years who came to the profession when an injury changed his plans for a future in baseball. I learned this in our first son’s kindergarten orientation, which Mr. V. made easy and light. I did confirm with Mr. V., whose name is shortened for little mouths that aren’t yet proficient in four- syllable surnames, that the newlywed is indeed moving out of state with his wife, Sydney, who is known as Mrs. V. in our house.
When I knew it was true that Mr. V. was leaving EE, I was awash with gratitude, memories, and of course sadness for the parents who had kids on deck to be in his class. Over the years, he has been so great with my kids and their anxious mother and I thought it was a good time to tell everyone about him and to let him know how much he will be missed before he left town.
So… what makes Mr. V., who captained the baseball team as a senior at Lynnwood High, so great? I truly don’t know where to start or even exactly how to explain it, so I’ll go with some stats first. When both of my sons, who aren’t exactly built for the classroom, were in his class, the boy-girl ratio was 17-to-6: Let that sink in for a moment and then remove yourself from the fetal position, if possible. Because of the full-day kindergarten lottery, which seems to be as much to get Mr. V. as your child’s teacher as it was to get into full-day kindergarten, this isn’t really something that can be controlled like it is in older grades. Considering these numbers, which do seem to flip flop as to which gender is the majority every other year, it stands out even more than the fact he is one of just 2 percent of pre-k and kindergarten teachers who are men.
While his own gender may make him more understanding of some of the rambunctious little-boy behavior (he will admit he was a high-energy-kid turned laid-back-adult), I have found his view on kids to be what makes his classroom a place for every kind of kid to thrive. Just last week, he told me he believes, “there is a key for every lock,” which chokes me up every time I revisit hearing him say it — you can’t reach each kid the same way. This type of kind acceptance is, in my opinion, the foundation for a confident child who thinks they can learn from mistakes instead of a child who thinks they are bad because they can’t get it right yet. I constantly saw this in action while spending time in class as the most awkward volunteer (ever.) I watched Mr. V., who is a mix of Mary Poppins and Freddie Prinze Jr., take a frustrated kid on the verge of tears from bottom-lip-out to assignment done, in what felt like 30 seconds. It comes as no surprise that he has already been hired as a kindergarten teacher in his new location.
Schools are full of teachers making little-kid magic nine months out of the year, but it does seem that every school has one special teacher who has been given a movie magic level of patience. Mr. V. is the kind of teacher older students go out of their way to say “Hi” to when walking through the halls. He is calm, understanding, hands-on,and funny, and he didn’t stop at the classroom when it came to making fun memories. The year my oldest son had him, a lot of the boys in the class were on the same T-ball team. Mr. V. not only came to the game, but served as the “coach” in coach-pitch. I mean, remember how great it was to run into a teacher outside of school and learn they had a first name? Imagine if a teacher had not only come to your T-ball game, but then joined you on the field. He also showed up in a freezing ice rink to watch my oldest play beginner hockey and hit the slopes with another family from class.
In an end-of-the-year assignment, the students were asked what they would miss most about Kindergarten. At a party for Mr. V.’s newly-minted first graders, a mom explained her kid answered that question with, “I will miss Mr. V.” I heard all the parents around her started saying, “me too.” I know it was certainly true for us!
If you have a 4- or 5-year-old child, there is a way to have them get some Mr. V. time before he leaves. He will be teaching a week-long summer camp at The Frances Anderson Center called Mighty Movers PE for Little Ones. The class, which still has a few openings, is from 10:30 a.m. to noon. I think this is a great way to ease a kid into a new school year while getting physical activity and learning how to take turns, on top of getting a chance to hang out with Mr. V.. To sign up, you can visit reczone.org or call 425-771-0230.
I promised Mr. V. I would send him this link. So, if you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, feel free to join me in wishing the Villalobos’ a big congratulations and good luck on their new adventure by sharing your well wishes in the comments below!
(Editor’s note: First and last names are required, per My Edmonds News commenting policy.)
– By Jennifer Marx
Jen Marx, an Edmonds Mom of two young boys, is a traffic reporter by dawn and writer and PBJ maker by day. She is always looking for a fun place to take the kids that makes them tired enough to go to bed on time. You can find her trying to make sense of begging kids to ” just eat the mac n cheese” at SnackMomSyndrome.com. If you have a kid-friendly event you’d like to share, email her at email@example.com.