Nate Rios Current Affairs, Education, Social Issues

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The past couple years have been defined by great change. Tying each teacher together on our classroom islands; this change has stretched and challenged us to see things in new and unfamiliar ways. Whether it be a shift in pedagogy, mindset, or one across the Pacific, change has been the constant we’ve all experienced. 

My family is finally settling on Kwajalein. But in the newness, old questions still exist. With this, the same one keeps returning: Am I capable of relaxing? For years, my family has dedicated ourselves to our school communities, finding fulfillment in the work done. I’ve been unexpectedly fortunate to receive a few accolades and gain the respect of folks I admire and value. But still, I’m uncomfortable and restless. 

Fresh out of a 5 week quarantine, a conversation with a friend led me to admit I feel guilty when not working. That it takes someone asking me to do something to feel free enough to relax. A student asked if I’m getting scuba certified (something that’s a must out here), and I didn’t have an answer. 19 and free from the baggage one chooses to carry as we get older, he told me why he loves scuba. For him, he loses track of time. He floats on the bottom, focused and free from the complexities that await his daily life. Further still, a Washington Post article asked what fun even means. 

Time certainly is precious and I don’t pretend to understand the pressures of continuing to teach during a pandemic. I’ve been physically free of that challenge for 6 months. What’s become abundantly clear is the long term effects of my time in the Arizona educational system, pandemic or not. My need to push and push and push, without regard for health or balance. Fun and relaxation shouldn’t be luxuries for the few that have earned it. No. For educators, it should be the moments that allow for reflection and sustaining energies that will move us forward, whatever forward may mean. We ask the same of our students. Get a good night’s sleep. Turn off the devices. Play outside. It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again and again and again.

As our pandemic teaching experiences begin to fade and I reflect on my time, it’s my mental health that wraps its tentacles so tightly around each moment. To teach is to care deeply; to offer a bit of who you are, to create something new and inexplicably valuable. This is the core of why we start and sustain this profession. Regardless of state funding structures, standardized testing requirements, and district mask mandates, who we are and how we persist are the questions most urgent. If change is what has tied us all together in this great mess of a year, then another universal truth has emerged: teachers are national treasures. It’s time we shined ourselves up.


Nate Rios has been a staple of the Flowing Wells community for 20 years. Even before earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religious Studies from the University of Arizona and a post-baccalaureate certification in 2007, he was a part of Flowing Wells High School, in Tucson, Arizona. Beginning in 2000, at the age of 18, Rios began volunteering to help mentor students through the non-profit Young Life. Long before teaching, he felt a calling to care for high school students regardless of their life situations. Due to his teaching experience, his values have grown even stronger: relationships always come first. In his 13 years teaching, Rios has worn many hats. Student Council, National Honors Society, leadership retreat, department chair, new teacher induction instructor, and instructional coach are just some of the many ways he’s contributed to the high school community. In 2018 he was an ambassador for teachers as a featured educator in Tucson Values Teacher’s documentary, TEACHING IN ARIZONA. His experiences caring for students and teachers both inside and outside of the classroom have led him all over the state to speak on behalf of educators and Arizona students. In 2020, his efforts culminated in his selection as an Arizona Educational Association Ambassador for Excellence. Ask any of his colleagues or students and they’ll tell you that he is dedicated to the betterment of the lives of every child and teacher.

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