There wasn’t much else for me to say. I was resigning. The principal came to my room, stood behind my own version of the Belgian Gates, and looked at me. After almost 20 years at the high school, he told me to let my department chair know I was leaving. No thank you or goodbye. Nothing sentimental or heartfelt. Business.

I’ve spent the last six months preparing my family to leave Tucson. Our’s is certainly a tale of covid pressures and the reinvention of the routines and expectations of daily life. Leadership and state metrics have unquestionably impacted our decision making. So we left. Yesterday. We boarded a plane to Hawaii, began a two week quarantine, and readied for a departure to the Marshall Islands. Our new school awaits us. And although it may feel sudden or reactionary, this change has been slowly reaching a boil for some time.

For almost 15 years I’ve taught in the same classroom. I’ve had the same principal, parked in the same spot, and believed in the power of relational education. Each August I’d enter my room worried that I’d somehow lost “it,” but each time the magic would reappear. Loving students, caring about them wholly, is what I do. It’s not sorcery. All the good educators do it. Pre-K through 12. Core or elective. Title I. Charter. Private. Every effective teacher understands the core value of relationships. It’s what makes teaching more than a business or industry; and it’s what can fill your tank in a moment and drain it in another. For almost 15 years I have built something that feels powerful and important. Relationships. So why am I leaving?

Our’s is certainly a tale of covid pressures, but it’s also about relationships. I care deeply about the school community and feel a connection that will remain long after I’m gone. But as my tank slowly emptied each year, it never quite filled the same. Conversations with colleagues, notes from students, inspirational lessons, and accolades all helped to provide the bursts of energy needed to make it through a day, week, or even a month, but I was fading. My school often talked about our staff as “family,” but when I got home each night, I was missing my own; the education family pulling and pulling me further and further. Although I’m literally moving to the tiny island of Kwajalein Atoll, a holistic reset set on a metaphorical island, applies all the same; existing as a place that can offer hope, reflection, and rejuvenation. I am still passionate and full of drive, energy, and resolve, and that’s the very reason it was time to leave. 

My wife and I have lived in Tucson for 20 years. Our three children were born there. Our house is there. So we organized a driveby goodbye. Neighbors and old friends came. Folks we met working our second jobs. Certainly colleagues old and new. But the most surprising were the old students. One surprised us from Phoenix. Another brought his pregnant wife. The power of relationships in full bloom. And since I get to choose the note on which I leave, I choose hope. The people I love will inspire me as I build something new. The pen pals my kids keep will learn and share the culture of another country as rich and beautiful as their own. Most importantly, I will rekindle the spirit of education that drove, drives, and will continue to drive me forward for the rest of my time.

As educators, our jobs are unbelievably complicated. But let me remind you, it’s always surprisingly simple. Moments, like a smile or a genuine conversation, can transform a child. For educators, I fear the last eight months have led to far too many empty tanks. The power of relationships extends as far as you’re able to give. What steps will you take to reflect, rejuvenate, and hope?


Nate Rios

Nate Rios has been a staple of the Flowing Wells community for 20 years. Even before earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religious Studies from the University of Arizona and a post-baccalaureate certification in 2007, he was a part of Flowing Wells High School, in Tucson, Arizona. Beginning in 2000, at the age of 18, Rios began volunteering to help mentor students through the non-profit Young Life. Long before teaching, he felt a calling to care for high school students regardless of their life situations. Due to his teaching experience, his values have grown even stronger: relationships always come first.
In his 13 years teaching, Rios has worn many hats. Student Council, National Honors Society, leadership retreat, department chair, new teacher induction instructor, and instructional coach are just some of the many ways he’s contributed to the high school community. In 2018 he was an ambassador for teachers as a featured educator in Tucson Values Teacher’s documentary, TEACHING IN ARIZONA. His experiences caring for students and teachers both inside and outside of the classroom have led him all over the state to speak on behalf of educators and Arizona students. In 2020, his efforts culminated in his selection as an Arizona Educational Association Ambassador for Excellence.
Ask any of his colleagues or students and they’ll tell you that he is dedicated to the betterment of the lives of every child and teacher.

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