Joaquin Muñoz: Owning the Space

Below is an interview held between Joaquin Muñoz and Kristy Moua. Muñoz has been teaching since 2005, for 15 years, with individuals ranging from kindergarten to PhD students. Muñoz is the Assistant Professor of Elementary Education here at Augsburg University. A fun fact about Muñoz is that his favorite condiment is the Carolina Reaper, which he likes putting on burritos. 

KM: Why did you choose education as your career path? 

JM: When I started first grade as a kid, I asked my teacher if I could do a presentation in class about astronomy, and I think she thought it was really cute, but I was really dead serious about wanting to teach students about this thing that I had learned about the sun… [T]hat was the first time that I was ever in front of a group of people, talking about something, and I think that set up the idea in my mind of how much fun it was and how enjoyable it was to be able to help people learn things that they didn’t know. Then, when I was finishing my bachelor’s in political science…thought I was going to go to law school…somebody came in and did a presentation about a teaching program. I was so excited and so enraptured, and it reminded me of being back in elementary school and how much I loved that experience. So I joined that teaching program, and that’s how I got into teaching. 

KM: What are some educational barriers you have seen Augsburg students face? 

JM: I spend a lot of time thinking about students of color. In particular, Indigenous students and other marginalized populations. A lot of what I like to think about when I think about barriers for students specifically looks at the very special barriers that they often face, which are sort of universal in some ways, like feeling homesick or feeling anxiety over being in a new environment that they’re not familiar with. But for students of color, this is often amplified, because not only are they in a new institution and environment, but the sort of social environment that they find themselves in, often doesn’t value who they are and what they represent…their culture and their languages and their livelihoods. They already have issues with what society thinks about them in general, and then they come to this place, this institution, and are told in different ways whether people belong or if they don’t belong. One of the challenges that I see students facing here at Augsburg is a sense of belonging, a sense of owning the space that they’re in and a sense of the belief that their lives, their experiences, their language, their culture, their ancestry, their heritage, is allowed to be in this space. So a lot of what I do in my teaching is to help remedy this by helping students in as many ways as I can see. You are allowed to hear this, you are a part of this space, you are this space and it’s okay for you to be here to your fullest extent.

KM: How do you hope to help Augsburg students thrive with your skills and areas of specialty?

JM:  One of my favorite things to be able to do as a teacher is to bring in new experiences of learning for students, not just new information and content that they may not be aware of, but also new experiences for how to engage or learn things like spending time ‘storying’ with each other. Me spending less time lecturing and spending more time and engaging students in collaborative dialogues, giving students the opportunity to sit in circle, different ways that students can see and recognize that the experience of school doesn’t always have to be just one way. [It’s]…very dialectic, one person is in charge, and everybody else is sort of soaking up whatever’s coming in. One of the things that I’ve been working on for a long time is developing my skills as a facilitator so that I can support students in their learning, but do it in as in as many diverse ways as I can so that students with all different kinds of strengths and capabilities and desires for engagement have an opportunity to participate. And that school is not just tailored to one type of student that can do what type of thing really well. 

For access to the rest of the interview visit the echo’s website. 

KM: What advice can you give to students hoping to persist and pursue their secondary education?

JM: I think one of the things that students can do is to really work to build community with each other. And that’s really, really challenging because, one, students live like the most busiest lives of any group of people in the history of ever. I think, at this point, you’re basically born multitasking. Your time and your energy is often planned to the minute. And letting you get lots of things done is often not conducive to the time, the space and the pace that’s necessary for connecting to people in genuine and authentic ways. I would recommend, even though it sounds contrary to what the institution might have you believe…that you put off some of the responsibilities that you may have from things like classes from things like extracurriculars, work… to take the time to authentically build community, with the people around you. I think one of the most important things you can do is recognize what you value, what’s important to you, what’s the core driving force in your life that compels you to do this school thing. And just remind yourself of it over and over again. If you’re a very creative person, remind yourself that your creativity is a useful thing for you to have and use and it’s allowed to be here. Just come back to what’s important to you. And don’t forget that it’s valuable here, that you’re valuable and it’s okay for you to be here.