Josh Tumolo, A2 STEAM fifth grade teacher

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Josh Tumolo was born in Camden, New Jersey, the oldest of three children.  He attended Haddonfield Public Schools from kindergarten through 7th grade before moving to Saline to complete high school when his father got a job opportunity in Michigan.

Tumolo says he often struggled academically in school and in reflecting on his experience realized that he often lacked a connection to his teachers and school staff. Without that connection, he focused much of his energy on sports and learning trade skills to support his family’s residential building business.

While learning the family building business, Tumolo was able to see firsthand the value of kindness,  honesty, effort, and meeting others where they are. 

Upon graduating from Saline High School in 2001, Tumolo went on to Eastern Michigan University, where he found a passion for creative writing. While attending EMU, he worked full time as a project manager and site supervisor for his family’s residential building company eventually becoming a licensed general contractor and starting his own custom home and remodeling business. With a growing business in hand, Tumolo decided to continue to follow his academic passions and graduated from EMU with a degree in Children’s Literature, Drama, and Theater for the Young. 

After graduation, Tumolo continued building custom homes until a recession hit, halting much of the new construction happening in Michigan. During those trying times, he reflected on the joy he felt while studying writing and children’s literature and realized that the difference between his early educational experiences and later educational experiences was connection. This drove him to apply to the University of Michigan to attend the ELMAC program with hopes of creating lasting bonds with his students that both motivate and inspire them to thrive. 

Tumolo is now in his 12th year as a classroom teacher in Ann Arbor Public Schools. His first seven years of teaching were spent at Ann Arbor Open where he taught multi-age classrooms from first grade through fourth grade.

For the past four years, Tumolo taught third grade at  A2 STEAM, and this year, he is teaching fifth grade. 

Leticia Gonzalez, whose son, Jorgie Ortega, was in Tumolo’s class last year, is a big fan of Tumolo’s, though they never met in person.

“Josh was and is an amazing teacher,” says Gonzalez. “He talks to children with a lot of respect and a caring heart. He’s very understandable and reasonable.”

Teaching assistant Bill McKenzie says that working with “Mr. Josh” is like working with your favorite superhero.

“Being in his classroom is like being at summer camp with all your friends,” he says. “He makes it so easy to learn and so easy to come to school every day and do my job.”

Tumolo lives in Ann Arbor with his wife Alyssa and their two children, Jimmy and Addy. They have one dog named Maizey and a cat named Eevee. He still loves to build things out of wood, spend time outdoors working in his gardens, and play sports. 

What was always written on your report card in grade school?

“Joshie is VERY Talkative!” 

What will you remember most about the school year 2020-21?

This past school year was different in so many ways but so many positives came from the experience. I loved the connections that were able to be built virtually. I feel like I got to know many of my students on a deeper level because I was able to see a true view into their world. Some of my favorite times were office hours where I was able to sit with kids and work on specific skills, play games or just chat about the things that they loved.

How is this year going so far?

I am really excited about this year! I have moved to a new classroom and am teaching a new grade. To make it even more exciting, many of my students in 5th grade were in my class when they were in 3rd grade!

The 5th grade team here at STEAM does some amazing projects that fit right into my personal passions. This year we received a grant to build a hoop house on our school grounds to support garden production during the winter. I am thrilled to be able to share my experiences as a builder with my students while weaving in math and science standards in a real-life setting.  

When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?

The thing that stands out to me most about my first year of teaching was the incredible support I received from the school community and my teaching colleagues. I never felt alone or overwhelmed because someone was always there to pick me up and help out. My first-year experience exemplified the “it takes a village” mentality that I carry with me every day. 

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?

Ask questions, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and be yourself. You have a vision of what teaching and learning are for you. Stay within that vision and be flexible. The kids are the key. 

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I struggled with concept and confidence as a student and later realized that it was because I lacked a connection with my teachers. I never felt motivated to achieve and that stuck with me. When I was building I was able to see how important connecting with others is and how motivating it could be. These experiences brought me to teaching as I realized that there was an opportunity for me to disrupt that feeling for other children. It turned out to be the best career decision I could ever make. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?

In my 12 years of teaching in AAPS, the most important thing that I have learned is to listen and ask questions. As teachers, we often feel that we need to provide answers all the time but the most important moments are when we listen and we seek to learn more. 

Josh Tumolo and class pose with their newly selected class flag.

What’s the happiest part of your day? 

The happiest part of my day is the first bell when I get to see the joy in the faces of my son and daughter as they head down the hall to their classrooms and welcome the excited faces of my students to our classroom. 

If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would that question be?

What really happened to the Dinosaurs? (I’m a bit of a paleontology nerd!)

What makes teaching at A2 STEAM unique?

A2 STEAM is an incredible place to teach and learn. The way the staff collaborates with one another is unbelievable and it shows in the unique experiences that we offer our students. The focus of A2STEAM is whole-child learning that allows us to build strong and lasting relationships with our students, their families, and our colleagues. 

A class mantra is taped to a classroom wall.

How do you keep students engaged?

I try to create deep relationships with every student from day one. To do this I share my story, allow myself to be vulnerable, and show empathy. When a student knows their teacher and trusts them then they will give them their time and attention.

Here at STEAM, we focus on Project Based Learning where we bring the process of exploration to life. In 5th grade, students will explore the world through some unbelievable projects. This year we will be raising chickens and building a hoop house to help sustain our Clucky Classroom Farm Stand.  During these year-long projects, the students will take on the roles of caretaker, gardener, builder, accountant, cook, just to name a few! These real-life experiences show how math, economics, science, art, and literacy live in the world on a day-to-day basis. 

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?

The most rewarding part of teaching for me is building lasting relationships with my students. There is nothing better than having former students visit or reach out to me years down the line. I have built some truly special relationships that have made me a better teacher and person. I am so grateful for all of those relationships. 

Tumolo helps a new student navigate the cafeteria.

How do you spend your summers?

My summers are spent with my family. We cultivate gardens, build, explore and just enjoy each other’s company. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time than with those that I love. 

If you could plan the perfect dinner, what would you eat and with whom would you be seated?

My grandmother’s ravioli with my family and friends. I don’t think there is anything better. 

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? 

After teaching 3rd grade for the past four years I will be transiting to 5th grade this year! I am beyond excited to join the 5th grade team at STEAM and work with students on some amazing projects this year. Building and working with kids are my passion and I am thrilled to get started creating beautiful things! 

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