Teaching a new direction

New W-L Teacher Joshua Folb’s Reflections On Teaching and Education In The Community


Mr. Folb is new at our school. He previously taught at New Directions.

Calculators, spiral notebooks, pencils and erasers surround Mr. Joshua Folb as he sets up his new classroom at W-L. For the past 13 years, he has taught alternative education for Arlington Public Schools (APS), and has been a teacher for 22 years total, having previously taught in Florida, Maryland, and Winchester, Va. This will be his first year at W-L, but one of many years in his teaching career, which began right after college. 

“After high school, I realized that I was always explaining math to people and I loved numbers and enjoyed doing it, so it just kind of fell into place,” Mr. Folb said. “I felt like it could be my career.” 

Nine years into his career, he made the decision to choose to work in alternative education.

“I had always found that I had success with students who struggled with math, and I wanted to work entirely with a population that needed a lot of support,” Mr. Folb said. 

Mr. Folb spent six years at Langston High School, and then moved to work at the New Directions Alternative Program, which is also located in Arlington, but unknown to some. 

“New Directions is a program for children who either struggle in classroom environments or are on probation,” Mr. Folb said. “A lot of them have experienced trauma, usually very young in their lives … It’s a very small school. Some of the things these kids have experienced make sitting in a classroom an impossibility, so that’s why they’re there. It was a great experience, and made me a better teacher, but after seven  years I was ready for a different challenge.” 

Due to this different environment, Mr. Folb’s virtual teaching experience differed from most. 

“I enjoyed virtual teaching in a way because it allowed me to see a completely different aspect of my students’ lives at New Directions, and I felt like I got to know them better,” Mr. Folb said. “We have 20 students total at New Directions though, so it’s obviously very different from W-L.”

However, Mr. Folb, who teaches  Algebra 1 and Pre-Calculus, is even more excited for the coming year now that he can be back in person. Due to this, he is also ready to address any challenges that the transition may bring. 

“The first thing I plan on doing this year is to acknowledge the pandemic that’s still going on around us [and] to recognize that everyone’s experience was different,” Mr. Folb said. “Some people lost family members, while others may be acting like the pandemic didn’t happen. There are kids who haven’t sat in blue plastic chairs since March 13th, 2020, while others came back for hybrid learning, and have. I think we just all need to work together so that we can help each of us transition back.” 

Mr. Folb emphasized another part of the importance of working together. 

“I also want to stress that masks are still necessary…  I was on a plane a couple months ago, and the flight attendant said ‘I didn’t wake up this morning to go to work excited to wear a mask, and I know you didn’t get on this plane saying you want to put a mask on, but here we are,’” Mr. Folb said. “We need to do it.” 

One goal Mr. Folb has for the school year is one that many can likely relate to. 

“I think mostly this year, I want a week without surprises, or for this year to at least feel normal-ish,” Mr. Folb said. 

Outside of school, Mr. Folb is an active member of the APS community. 

“I’m chair of a committee that operates with the goal of finding ways for getting to school without putting them on yellow buses,” Mr. Folb said. “We have a problem in Arlington, where if you made a billion dollars to buy more buses, there still would be no place to park them. So, we have to find a way to get kids to school differently.” 

Along with finding more innovative ways for kids to get to school, the committee Mr. Folb resides on works to make walking to school safer as well. 

“With dangerous intersections, we also work to get kids who have to walk through them to get the school transportation,” Mr. Folb said. “We talk about what can be done, and we work with the budget. We talk about things that won’t only help students, but also the communities themselves, whether it’s improving transit or asking for a crosswalk.”

As for how Mr. Folb came across this role, it had to do with a previous job, while he was a teacher. 

“I used to be a bus driver, so I’ve always had an appreciation for what transportation can look like, and I know what you can and can’t ask a bus driver to reasonably do,” Mr. Folb said. “When this committee in the school board was formed, they reached out to me and asked if I’d join them.”

Mr. Folb is also involved in the teachers union, which has representatives from every APS building and meets once a month. 

“We’ve been doing a lot of advocacy work through the pandemic, because none of us have wanted or want to lose someone on our watch, so we’ve been working to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Mr. Folb said. “We’ve insisted on safety protocols with the pandemic and ensured mask requirements would be there when we returned to the classroom, and worked on leave, because some people might not want to take leave if they’re sick, which is obviously an issue with COVID.” 

However, Mr. Folb has also worked on other projects in the teachers union. 

“I focus a lot on compensation for employees, and how Arlington is an expensive place to live,” Mr. Folb said. “We want to make sure that people aren’t attracted to other districts, or non-educational careers, because we want them here with us.” 

Mr. Folb also participates in activities that are not related to education and the community. 

“Outside of school, I love to motorcycle, collect model trains, and hike, which is something my 13-year-old son and I picked up during the pandemic,” Mr. Folb said. “It was a great way for us to get outside and bond.” 

For his students in the coming year, Mr. Folb wants them to know this: 

“I’m learning along with you,” Mr. Folb said.