5 Questions with … Al Callejas | Around Town | #schoolshooting

For Valley View Elementary Center first-grade teacher Al Callejas, teaching and coaching go hand in hand. He’s celebrating nearly two centuries as a teacher — 13 of them at Valley View — and more than a decade as a basketball coach. In addition to coaching at Holy Cross High School, he also works with youth basketball teams and athletes in grade school through high school at Riverfront Sports Complex. Read on for more about his twin passions.

Q: How did you get into teaching?

A: I became a teacher because I always wanted to work with children and impact their lives in a positive way. I was always around children growing up. My dad is one of seven and my mom is one of six so I have numerous cousins. During my senior year of high school, I met with my guidance counselor and decided that I was going to be a teacher. I chose to attend University of Scranton to study elementary education and play basketball.

Q: What’s your favorite part of teaching and what is the most challenging part?

A: My favorite part of teaching is coming to school each day and seeing my students come into class with a big smile on their faces. It’s extremely rewarding to see the students progress throughout the school year. The most challenging part of teaching was obviously the past two years and teaching first graders virtually. Do you know how many times I said, “Please mute or unmute your mic?” Haha. This school year is going to be challenging as well, especially for first grade teachers. Many incoming students had disrupted versions of pre-school and kindergarten. The children are still learning how to follow directions, control behaviors and work together.

Since my first year of teaching, I’ve evolved into a more confident teacher. I’m much more patient. I’ve realized kids go at their own pace. My goal as a teacher is to make kids love coming to school. I want my classroom to be fun, engaging, and memorable. My goal is to have students have a positive attitude toward school and that will carry with them throughout their education.

Q: We hear you’re pretty good at basketball. Where do you coach and how did you get involved with that?

A: I currently coach varsity boys basketball at Holy Cross High School. My father is the head coach, while I’m the assistant coach. During high school, I played at Bishop O’Hara High School and graduated in 1997. I’m the school’s all time leading scorer with 1,986 points and played in the state championship game in 1996. In college, I played at the University of Scranton and was inducted into their Wall of Fame in 2012. The past six years, I’ve started entering basketball shooting competitions. In 2015, I competed against 1,000 participants at the Borgata Casino in a free throw contest. In that competition, I went head to head with the world’s best shooter and former NBA shooting coach Dave Hopla. Fortunately, I was able to beat him. After tha, I won free throw and three point competitions in New York and Las Vegas, beating overseas professional players. Most recently, I won a competition at the 2020 NBA All Star game in Chicago.

Q: What’s similar about teaching elementary schoolers and coaching basketball?

A: Teaching and coaching are very similar because you’re trying to help kids reach their potential whether it’s in the classroom, on the court or in life. Another similarity is setting and reaching goals. In the classroom and on the court, you are setting and trying to reach multiple goals while trying to motivate different personalities. Teaching first grade has definitely made me a better coach. When teaching kids so young, you need to clearly communicate and model completing an activity or assignment. Since I do this so often, it now comes out naturally when coaching in practice.

Q: When you’re not teaching or coaching, what do you like to do?

A: I live in Archbald with my wife, Maribeth, and two daughters, Aubrie and Brielle. My family and I love trying new restaurants. We also enjoy traveling to New York City, Disney World and the beach.

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