To say Josh Walker is competitive might be an understatement. To say he is successful might also.
Starting the 2014-2015 school year on Monday, Walker, the Inez Radford Teacher of the Year Award winner in Booneville last year, left himself a tough act to follow.
For five classes a day Walker teaches seventh grade science — that’s life, earth and space, and physical sciences — then he finishes the day as a coach for, depending upon season, the Bearcat football, weightlifting and track teams.
Booneville head football coach Scott Hyatt quips that coaches refer to Walker as "Bill Nye, the Science Guy/Arnold Schwarzenegger."
The afternoon portion of the schedule demands competition, obviously, but Walker is just as demanding in his day job.
"I’m very competitive," Walker offers unashamedly. "I try to make my students competitive too. I tell them what we’re doing here is we’re being compared throughout the state. I tell them how we did the year before and explain to them how I feel like we can do better.
"Having the drive to succeed and displaying that to my students is paramount. When I’m teaching a topic and see students succeed, I get chills just like the ones I get on Friday night when the cannon goes off. I have many responsibilities, but no matter the stage, I am always a teacher."
Walker is typically one of, if not the first, teacher to want to see his students’ test scores after the benchmark tests are graded. The scores on the nature of science test his students take have improved every year.
Improvement is measured by the number of students scoring proficient or advanced on the test administered in April.
"The first year they were not that good. The second year we were 59 percent, last year it was 63 percent. This year it was 71 percent," said Walker.
That 71 percent led the region and came, like every other year, with an entirely new group of students who were last tested in science in fifth grade.
"We’ve been being in third place behind Charleston and Greenwood — this last year it was County Line and Greenwood — but we’ve been on a steady climb and I was kind of hoping we would continue that. I would have been happy with second place, but we actually got first place."
Walker actually went a step further to check the scores statewide. Booneville finished seventh out of 289 junior high or middle schools.
"I was very pleased with that," said Walker.
That’s although Walker actually came to the school as a pre-AP history teacher for seventh and eighth grade students.
"Because they needed someone to fill a science position, I went and filled it," said Walker.
The athletic portion of the job is virtually nonstop, and froth with success.
"Obviously science is involved in sports and I use that to interest some of my students but in my opinion teaching is teaching. No matter if I’m wearing my whistle or not, I have to convey my passion to my students," said Walker. "I love learning and the process of it. I feel like school not only teaches specific subjects like math, science, and English, but the process of learning itself. As a student you literally go to school to develop and learn how to learn. Science can be connected to all subjects and really boils down to a deeper understanding of any form of knowledge; academic or extracurricular."
Walker is the offensive and defensive lines — a study of mass and energy if you will. Walker has a history there having played on the line himself while a student at Booneville. Walker was on a line that led to a state title in 2000 and was on the sidelines at War Memorial Stadium for last year’s championship.
As soon as football season ends, Walker starts leading the power-lifting team — building more of that mass, but expending untold energy to do so.
Weightlifting overlaps the brief indoor track season, where the Bearcats were fourth in 4A.
Although he shares his athletes with baseball, basketball and track Walker’s lifting team won its second straight Class 4A weightlifting title last spring.
A few weeks later, against the odds, Walker’s squad recaptured the District 4A-4 title. It was the second title in three years with Walker at the helm of the historically successful program.
As soon as the track season ends, it’s back to football, for spring practices. And get ready for the next year of teaching science.
For now that’s okay, but that is likely to change next year. By then Walker may need another challenge.