News-AZ Republic

Program aids teachers in becoming principals

By Ray Parker, Arizona Republic – April 25, 2011

Tony Elmer, who is the Smith Junior High team leader in east Mesa, has been named one of 27 Arizona Aspiring Principals by the Rodel Foundation, which supports efforts to improve education.

Elmer, 38, will be paired with one of the Rodel Exemplary Principals who were selected earlier this year. Over the next two years, the principal will mentor Elmer and help him develop the skills to manage a school with high-needs students.

Elmer grew up in the small Arizona mining town of Miami, where his father was a copper miner and mechanic.

His mother, Patsy Elmer, was recently featured in an Arizona Republic story about her work as the seamstress for the Phoenix Suns.

The Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona developed the aspiring-principal program to encourage educators to become leaders at schools where their skills are needed. Information: rodelfoundationaz .org.

Elmer took time out to talk about what he hopes to gain from the program.

Question: What’s your educational background?

Answer: Fourteen years in education with the last eight years with Mesa Public Schools. I’m currently the team leader at Smith Junior in charge of school discipline, student activities and athletic director.

Q: Why education as a career?

A: Initially, I got into education because I enjoyed math and I wanted to coach baseball. My high school math teacher, Mr. Neil Mitchell, was one of my favorite teachers. It wasn’t until I started teaching that I realized many of the junior high students in our school struggled with basic math. It was difficult for me to understand at first because I was always good at math. I immediately patterned my teaching style like that of Mr. Mitchell’s: enthusiastic, fun, and always do your best.

Q: How do you motivate students?

A: There isn’t a magic wand that a teacher can wave to motivate students. Encouraging students to do their best every day and allowing students to make mistakes will help to create a positive-learning environment. Mixing in some humor along the way always helps.

Q: What’s a misconception about education?

A: (One) that I see is the responsibility placed on teachers as being the sole educator in a student’s life. Teachers do a great job educating our students, but it is the entire community that plays a role in that education.