“I will walk the mile with you as long as you’re willing to carry your own water.” That beautiful, poignant, evocative, artistic statement comes from…a math teacher?
Surprisingly, yes. But Joshua Mulheron is no ordinary math teacher, so he uses that statement as the central expression of his teaching philosophy, which has benefited students since he joined the Academy in 1999.
Mulheron elaborates: “I try to make myself super-available for tutoring. I’m usually one of the first teachers on campus in the morning, and I stay after school in my classroom. I get there at 7 a.m. and stay until 4:30 or 5 if students are still here. I want to be ready and available any time students may have a question. Sometimes the classroom isn’t perfect for every kid, and they need a little more one-on-one.”
Returning to the way Mulheron phrases his statement of philosophy, it is set up not only to ensure his students learn math and achieve academically, but also to keep them accountable. It is a statement, borne out in the example set by his behavior, of near-unconditional support. The only condition is that students show up and work, going above and beyond classroom hours to pursue excellence, which is about the same equation they will face while seeking success throughout their future academic and professional lives.
Part of the reason this approach works for Mulheron: “I enjoy the classroom, but I love the tutoring. I love seeing the lightbulb go off over their heads. I like the fact that the boys really care and want to do well. The students are respectful, the parents are supportive, and I like being at a Catholic school, where I can express my faith.”
Such expression often takes the form of a prayer at the beginning of class. “It typically is a call for petitions,” Mulheron said. “A chance for students to say, ‘I want to pray for my brother, pray for my Mom.’ I call out for whatever they have and usually four or five students respond. Then it’s an off-the-cuff kind of prayer, where I try to remember each of those things and add something like, ‘Remember those petitions that we hold in our hearts and have left unspoken.’ It’s about a two-minute process.”
During distance learning amid the Coronavirus crisis, the prayer took on added meaning, Mulheron said. “One student told me he was pleasantly surprised to see a video prayer at the start of our lesson as a way to establish some form of normalcy.”
Beyond prayer, in a normal classroom setting, Mulheron cultivates student engagement by using his Smartboard and other technology. He also arranges desks next to each other so students can more easily work together and learn peer-to-peer, a tactic that complements his lectures.
In addition to teaching pre-calculus and honors algebra 2/trigonometry, Mulheron has taught AP computer science and moderated the math team and liturgical team. He also runs the video board at football games. “That just fell into my lap,” he said. “When I started, I didn’t even know the rules of football, but I learned and trained students. We work ahead of time to find things to put on the board, and we continue to learn what new tricks we can do.”
Mulheron’s personal background includes an upbringing in Barron, Wisc., a Math Education bachelors degree at Gustavus Adolphus, and time with Net Ministries running retreats before joining the Academy as student-teacher. From 2014-2016, he took time away from campus to get his masters degree from the University of St. Thomas and to teach in Japan with his wife, Macey. Together, they spend time raising their adopted daughter, Emma.
Except between the hours of 7 a.m. and about 5 p.m.