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In Person

Manuel Castañeda, III 

Ft. Worth, Texas
Touring Tex Mex musician,
Middle school band director

How did you end up touring with the conjunto dance band Little Joe y La Familia?

I was playing locally when I was in college and Joe heard us play. He invited me to join the band, but I still had 15 credits left to finish my degree and I knew if I took off, I might not come back. I finished [school] that summer and began teaching and touring with him whenever I could.   

How did you get into music?

My father is a band director in Eagle Pass, Texas. That was a strong influence. When I was 14, I got paid $50 for a few hours' work playing music. It didn't seem like work to me.

Do you share your experiences as a professional musician with your students?

I show them photos of the band and how we perform in front of people. I want to motivate them to excel in music and other activities. It takes discipline, teamwork, and practice—skills they can use in other areas. It doesn't matter what they do, as long as it's productive—where they are not just sitting around watching TV.

Have your students heard you play on stage?

A few of them showed up at one of our concerts. They didn't come up to me after the performance, though. They're shy. They talked to me at school. They said, "Sir, we heard you play." That was it.   

Why did you join NEA?

Because I feel I need support from an organization that has the best interest of students as well as teachers in mind.

Jim Ellis

Springfield, Oregon
Snowboard instructor, firefighter, EMT,
Middle school teacher

How did you get into snowboarding?

A friend bought me a three-trip package to try it out.

Why snowboarding over skiing?

Snowboarding's easier on your knees and I couldn't ski.

Why did you decide to teach EMT and CPR classes?

I like to pass along life-saving knowledge to others.

What's harder to teach—sixth grade, snowboarding, or life-saving?

The hardest to teach is the one where the student is not excited to learn. I've had unmotivated students in all three.

Do kids or adults learn faster?

Both are quick with an excellent teacher's great instruction.

What's the best part about teaching?

The moment of connection the student has with a concept or skill I am trying to convey. It's a goosebump moment for me.

Why did you decide to become an NEA member?

It is a great union of my peers.           

  Svetlana Shkolnikova

Short Takes

Linda Coffman
Tiffin, Ohio
Puzzle designer

At first, the popular number puzzle Sudoku was just a way for Coffman (Ohio Education Association-Retired) to pass time. Lately, it's an addictive hobby. Shortly after solving her first puzzle, she began making her own. The former sixth-grade teacher spends anywhere from an hour to several days on a puzzle. "Sometimes I ask myself why I'm doing this," says Coffman. "Then I remember: because it's fun! It keeps my mind agile." Her focus now is on making word puzzles for her 15 grandchildren, each one incorporating one of their names.

Jazzy Wright


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