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Before he began his 15-year career in teaching, Joel Kohlman was a full inclusion special education paraprofessional student aide and also played drums in several banda, reggae, jazz, hip-hop, and world beat bands in the Bay Area and Napa.
Joel was a music major at the University of North Texas for three years before making a shift toward social work.
“I switched to the school of community service, started to study behavioral analysis and rehabilitation counseling and earned my bachelor of applied arts and sciences – ultimately culminating in three minors for a major,” he said.
This is when Joel’s career in teaching began. His first stint lasted for eight years as a paraprofessional for San Francisco Unified School District.
“I like helping people. I like seeing people learn and learn how to help themselves,” Joel explained. “So in any teaching I do, I try to figure out who my students are, where they are at in their lives, what they need and how I can best help them.”
Eventually Joel’s adventurous spirit led him away from special education and to an entirely different country.
“I had friends in China so I started to pool my earnings and set off to check it out one summer,” Joel said. “What I had originally planned as a six week trip ended up lasting me three years.”
As soon as Joel landed in China, the job opportunities started rolling in.
“People just started asking me to teach, which is what I kind of thought would happen, and is part of the reason I went there in the first place,” he said. “People would come up to me on the street and literally tap me on the shoulder and ask me to teach.”
As word spread, Joel’s teaching offers began to increase. It started with part-time elementary school work and led into full time teaching at the city’s number one high school, and eventually it led to higher leadership positions like teacher management.
On top of this all, during his 10 years in China, Joel taught business management English at an international bank, taught English language classes at a plastic surgeon’s office, and eventually he met his wife who he now has an 8-year-old son with.
“Over time, I realized that with the pollution and my health I would never get an adult ed credential or meet other teachers that were academically motivated and improve as a teacher there,” Joel said. “So I came back hoping for something like this to happen, and fortunately I fell right into it.”
What he is referring to is finding a job at Highlands Community Charter School with a bunch of likeminded individuals.
“I had already been working at Lao Family for several months before my boss found out about Highlands and asked me to make a call,” Joel recalled. “Shortly after our partnership began and I was hired on full-time by Highlands.”
From that point on, Joel felt like his teaching career really began to prosper.
“I like becoming better at being a teacher. I like that Highlands is so supportive in getting us an adult ed credential, in giving us benefits, in the professional development, and overall in the great people that we work with,” he said. “I love Highlands. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and in that time I have seen the best and the worst and this is the best.”