A score for Yukon Joe
CARBONDALE – When a student walks past “Yukon Joe” at Carbondale Middle School, it’s a good bet he’ll greet her by first name. Physical education teacher Joe Markham has a mother lode of fans, including his boss, Principal Cliff Colia. “We call him ‘Yukon Joe’ because he’s good as gold,” Colia said. “These kids know Joe cares so much about them.”Markham was named Roaring Fork School District Re-1 teacher of the year Tuesday night at a banquet hosted by the L.S. Wood Charitable Trust, which gives a $2,000 award to the teacher of the year from both RFSD and Garfield County School District Re-2. Markham’s department will also receive $2,000. Money for the L.S. Wood Charitable Trust comes from the corporate holdings of Leighton S. Wood, founder and owner of Mid-Continent Coal and Coke. His foundation has given over $11 million in scholarships, grants and teacher awards since Wood’s death in 1965. Colia said Markham isn’t your average P.E. teacher who might be known for throwing balls into the gym and telling kids to go play. Markham transcends that.
“He does so many things as far as character building, community service,” Colia said. In class, Markham is known for getting even the coolest kids to do funky dances in the gym, and injecting math, reading and science into his physical education program. “He gives all the kids so much individual care and attention, they want to do the stuff,” Colia said. “He’s a gem.”Markham said being named teacher of the year was “totally out of the blue,” and that he felt humbled. Markham looks at home on the bleachers in the CMS gymnasium, flanked by the typical basketball hoops and a climbing wall he helped create. The kids who play games in that gym have been his passion for more than 14 years. “My philosophy in PE is to try to expose kids to as many different activities as possible,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll find something to be lifelong active.”Teaching kids the benefits of being active has been Markham’s passion for 14 years, a profession he said he returned to after discovering the business world doesn’t offer the same professional satisfaction as teaching does.
A virtual Kansas native, Markham comes from a family of teachers. His father taught for 35 years, and his sister is State Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, who was inspired to go into politics after many years of teaching. Markham grew up near Manhattan, Kan., and studied at Emporia State University. After teaching in Kansas for three years, he decided to leap into the business world, working in sporting goods and real estate. He moved his family to Carbondale in 1981, operating an antique store there until he decided to return to teaching in 1991, at age 43. “My first two years, I was ready to throw in the towel,” he said. “I was like, I can’t do middle school. But now, I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.”While teaching middle school students has its unique challenges, “middle school kids are really frank and honest,” he said. “You have to have a sense of humor to do middle school. There’s a time to be serious and a time to have a good time.”And when times get tough, he said, the key to surviving the tumult of the middle school classroom is simple: Don’t take it personally. Middle school students are at the age where they’re not really kids and they’re not yet adults, Markham said. Those students need boundaries, and often, he said, they just need someone to talk to.
He said teachers sometimes don’t realize the impact they have on kids, who remember their teachers their entire lives. Markham said that in a decade, he probably won’t be teaching, but he’ll almost certainly be volunteering. He said he’s passionate about environmental issues and currently volunteers for the Sierra Club and Habitat for Humanity. He’ll also be watching his three kids – Aaron, 20, Emily, 21, and Nathan, 25 – succeed in life. Whatever he’ll be doing after he retires, Markham said he’ll be keeping active, keeping in line with the values he tries to instill in his students.
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