05/11/2012 09:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Teachers' Lounge: The Mustachioed Advocate

In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, Teach Plus interviewed six of the many inspiring teachers we know. Meet them right here in the Teach Plus Teachers' Lounge throughout the week.

In the Lounge today, meet Tyler Malotte, who attended Los Angeles public schools and now teaches in one. A special education teacher at Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School, he is currently a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.


Despite what students might think, teachers don't live at school. Where can you be found when not in the classroom?

Wait, we don't live at school? Traveling. Gardening. Watching sports. Fantasy football. Jimmy Buffet concerts. Tailgating. Dodgers games. June Mountain ... I love snowboarding.

How did you end up teaching students with emotional disturbances?

Bamboozled. Swindled. Hoodwinked. Suckered. The story (according to my Assistant Principal, Ms. Hardemion) is that there was a great teacher coming to Cochran to teach the ED class, but his paperwork was being held up. She asked if I would be willing to cover the class for a few weeks. A few weeks turned into a few months which turned into two years. I fell in love with the class. It was the most fortuitous dupe I could ever imagine.

What do you wish people knew about special education?

Good SPED teaching is good teaching, period. SPED is not a place, it's a service. And all kids deserve an opportunity to learn -- regardless of disability. I was a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) so I tend to be extra protective.

Tell me about a former student who made you proud.

I remember Chris as a sixth grader running around the front of the school climbing up skateboard racks and walls, screaming profanities (words which even impressed me) and doing wrestling moves.

The next two years he and I went to battle. His mom and I spoke daily. I chased him over fences and into elementary schools. He would curse, yell, and tantrum. But there were a lot of good times too. Teaching him how to shake hands. How to open a door, answer a phone, type, meditate, breathe when upset.

This past year as a freshman in high school, he was completely mainstreamed with straight A's and B's. He gave me a hug and said, "Thanks." One of the best days of my life.

What experience in teaching has broken your heart?

I had a student with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy -- a disease that has already taken his mobility and will take his life by age 25 -- who has a younger sister with the same condition. He said he hoped that she died first so that she didn't have to see him die and be scared of death. I get choked up thinking about it. Then I contrast that with students (and teachers) who squander their opportunities, devalue education, and don't strive to make their community a better place to live. Sobering.

What is one thing you would like to change about the current state of the teaching profession?

First and foremost, the funding. The funding of education in California is egregious -- and I hold many of our representatives in contempt for being so short sighted. Fully fund education now or spend ten times as much later to incarcerate.

You played a key role in a class action suit that claimed low-income students' constitutional rights to a quality education were being violated by "last hired, first fired" policies that disproportionately impact schools in high-poverty neighborhoods. Why was that case so important to you?

During the layoffs in 2008 certain schools in certain areas were being disproportionally affected. There were some schools that lost more than half their staff and some which had no layoffs. Cochran was hit hard.

The civil rights violations our students were enduring were morally unconscionable. We should not expect the most vulnerable in our community, those who could most benefit from a proper education, to bear the highest burden in times of economic crisis.

What was the best sports moment in your teaching career?

My favorite sports memory is having 50 recently drafted NFL rookies running drills for my kids at school, thanks to a colleague, Raul Olivas. That day I watched Tim Tebow teach a route and then throw passes to Tyree, one of the most ADHD kids I've ever seen. Tyree had a smile from ear to ear and was hyperfocused on completing his task.

What do your students like best about you?

I think (hope) they like that I'm forgiving and willing to start every day fresh -- regardless of what happened the day before.

...And what do they tease you about?

They LOVE teasing me about my moustache, which I started growing to raise money for Movember this past November. I got such grief at my pitiful moustache that I decided to keep it for the rest of the year. I feel loved when they laugh at me.

I know you lived in Salamanca, Spain. What is your favorite Spanish phrase?

¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa dentro! (A boisterous toast.)

Here's what Teach Plus LA Executive Director John Lee has to say about Tyler:

Tyler is an incredibly dedicated educator who is unparalleled in his service to students with special needs. He is extremely patient while holding his students to high expectations. Tyler is also a leader among his colleagues; he constantly assists teachers with resources and supports to better serve special education students. He is the type of teacher you would want for your own kids. On top of all that, he sports a fabulous handlebar mustache that is the envy of all.