Fun responses to questions everyone wants answered by a 2016 Arizona Educational Foundation Ambassador for Excellence. Michael Vargas is a freshman physics teacher at Pinnacle High School. In November, the Arizona Educational Foundation named Vargas a 2016 Ambassador of Excellence. The Paradise Val

Dec 08, 2015

Fun responses to questions everyone wants answered by a 2016 Arizona Educational Foundation Ambassador for Excellence.

Michael Vargas is a freshman physics teacher at Pinnacle High School. In November, the Arizona Educational Foundation named Vargas a 2016 Ambassador of Excellence. The Paradise Valley Unified School District employee says he enjoyed answering these fun questions.

What is your go-to idea for engaging reluctant learners?

MV: To engage reluctant learners, I get them off their feet and moving. I don’t give them a chance to sit down. I make my lessons applicable to their prior knowledge base with the hopes I can engage them in something that is new and different. You will always have kids that are reluctant to do what they are asked. I tell them I am an excellent motivator. Whether that motivation is positive or negative is up to them as my student.

What is something parents should do to support their child’s learning?

MV: Pay Attention! Your child is your greatest investment. I know so many kids whose parents are not engaged with them. Our society is rapidly becoming addicted to technology and mass media nonsense. Put down the cell phone, engage with your kids and teach them something. If you don’t, someone else will… You are your child’s number one resource!

Who is the teacher that inspired you?

MV: Coach Coleman from Centennial High School in Peoria, Arizona. He taught us the value of hard work and selflessness. Without question, he is one of the best teachers I had. Daily, he taught us life lessons that went beyond academics, like how to be good people. In my instruction today, I still find myself doing things “Coleman Style,” 20 years later. If I am ever half the teacher he was, I will be happy.

Why do you teach?

MV: I love working with young people. I get to be a part of their lives, watching them grow and learn. Also, I get to be a guiding voice in many of their lives, supporting them in their ups and their downs. My students keep me young and I love being part of the Pinnacle community that is supportive and enthusiastic about its kids.

What should students get their teacher during the holiday season?

MV: When I taught in Europe, I had a Greek student whose Dad, as a thank you for teaching his son for his first year in the American School, shipped over a case of olive oil from his father’s farm, all the way from Thesoloniki Greece. I knew the shipping cost must have been astronomical. It was a humbling gift that put into perspective the appreciation of this family, and made me never forget how big of a role I play in kids’ lives. Their expression of appreciation for an “American Education” made me realize just how lucky we are.

Since moving back stateside, I know high school students, in general, don’t give presents to their teachers. However, if you were to give your high school teachers a gift for Christmas, I know most would appreciate school supplies and expendables. As I tell my students, I will never turn down dry erase markers and pencils, ever!

What is your favorite educational movie?

MV: Finding Forester. What’s not to like about a basketball player who is a kid genius?

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

MV: The lessons not on the lesson plan or curriculum map are usually some of the best. Any chance I get to teach a life lesson I make sure they are worthy of the attention of the audience.

What is your funniest moment in the classroom?

MV: I challenged one of my kids to a fight last year. I told him if he won the whole class didn’t have to take the quiz. Puzzled and dazed he accepted my challenge and rolled up his sleeve expecting an arm wrestling contest. I then pulled out from under my desk a Japanese toy sumo wrestler play set with wind up mini sumo wrestlers—a very fun toy I brought back from one of my travels. My class never laughed so hard! We played the best two out of three and I let him win, though he didn’t know it…. You would have thought we had just won the super bowl from the cheering and laughing down the hall. It was hilarious! He was a class hero for weeks after.

What is one thing you would change to improve teaching and learning in AZ schools?

MV: More pay for teachers, more pay for teachers, and more pay for teachers!

I make half the salary here than I did before moving back to Arizona. If it wasn’t for my wife paying all the bills with her nursing job I couldn’t afford to teach in this state.

You can’t get something for nothing. I still don’t understand how people don’t get that. Not only do we need to keep quality people, but also we need more of them. In my subject area, we are down to less than 150 certified physics teachers in the state. If that’s not a problem I don’t know what is. However, that is a whole other interview.

Apple or pumpkin pie?

MV: Are you kidding me? Pumpkin pie, all the way.

Learn more about Michael Vargas by watching a short YouTube video. (

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