English Department faculty member Josh Quiñones had just graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in political science and art history when a chance opportunity sparked an enduring passion for teaching. The Massachusetts native returned home after college and reached out to his former music teacher at St. Mark’s School to volunteer to help with the a cappella group.
The teacher told Quiñones, who joined Milton this academic year, that there was an assistant position open if he was interested. Although he’d initially thought of teaching as something he might do later in his career, Quiñones accepted the job.
“I was chaperoning a Central District chorus music trip, and it was that experience that made me realize how much I loved working with young people,” he said. “My dad said to me, ‘You are so excited when you come home every day to talk about your work. Why don’t you consider this something you want to pursue?’ I sat with it for about a year and realized that this is what I need to be doing.
“The opportunity and responsibility that comes with working with young people is so inspiring to me,” he added. “I’m challenged to constantly grow and to see the world through the eyes of my students. They have remarkable ideas about what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change.”
Since becoming a teacher, Quiñones has taught at the Wheeler School and Cushing Academy, received his master’s in teaching from Brown University, and is working on his master’s in English from the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College during summer breaks.
Quiñones, who lives in Goodwin House, teaches two sections of Class IV English as well as Seeing Literature and Performing Literature, both Class III courses. Class IV English is an introduction to the subject at Milton, in which students build skills in writing, grammar, and understanding and analyzing different forms of literature; the Class III courses Quiñones teaches build a deeper understanding of literature through the perspectives of visual representation and performance. Students in Seeing Literature, for example, have created photo and video projects in response to the works they’ve studied, while Performing Literature students recently worked on readings of original poems based on the poetry they’ve read as a class.
Quiñones’ love of performing arts, music, and theater helped point him toward a career in teaching English. “One opportunity that English affords that’s particularly unique is that it allows me to engage in everything I’m passionate about in one discipline, and to reshape the ways I encountered English, which could be very static at times. English for me has always felt very interdisciplinary.”
Different avenues such as performance and using visual perspectives can help students engage with English and language arts “off the page,” helping to deepen understanding of literature and understanding its emotions. It also opens the subject to students who may not be excited to read “the classics.” Quiñones’ students have recently studied the work of Danez Smith, a Black, queer, HIV-positive poet and spoken-word artist, whose contemporary writing and performance was well-received. “It’s so exciting to see students engage with texts and writers who can reshape their understanding of who is seen in the classroom and thus to create meaningful moments of individual and collective resonance,” Quiñones said.
Joining a new school in the middle of a global pandemic has had some challenges, but Quiñones said he’s grateful for the ways Milton faculty have seen opportunities for growth due to COVID-19 and the ongoing movement toward social change and racial justice.
“So, yes, it’s tricky to make a transition in a time like this, but one of the benefits is that we’re all navigating questions about how we find community and what community means to us—not just those of us who are new,” he said. “To come into Milton at a time when the school is asking these questions intentionally feels inviting to me. I have found that among my colleagues in the dorm and in the English Department, there is a lot of enthusiasm and openness to change.”