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RI teacher happy to trade fatigues for slacks
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Growing up in Savanna, Moon Villalobos got a lot of direction for two of his careers -- cycling and teaching -- from his parents.

He said he's always been interested in bicycling and raced mountain bikes from age 14 to 18.

While growing up, Mr. Villalobos said he watched the Tour de France with his father, who "sold his car close to eight years ago so that he would only ride his bike to work and commute around town.

"When I was deployed the first time I really thought 'Wow, life is short,' what do I want to do with myself if I make it back in one piece?' I decided that one of the things I wanted to do was ride my bicycle across the United States."

Mr. Villalobos did that ride in 2006, to benefit the American Lung Association.

He said he originally planned to make the Army a career but had problems with his knees. "I have had five medial meniscal tears in my knees from jumping out of planes, Ranger school and the sheer weight of ruck sacks, body armor and gear over the years I was in."

Mr. Villalobos said he became a bike mechanic after leaving the Army. "I liked working on bikes. While going through college, I worked at Healthy Habits as a service manager, and I taught a class on bicycle repair for six years.

"When I became a teacher I bowed out gracefully. I still get back there every once in a while. Being a teacher in Rock Island, we have nine weeks of school and two weeks off, so during my two weeks off, I get back to the shop if they need some extra help."

Mr. Villalobos said his mom was a teacher and he used to help her get ready for classes. "I always wanted to be a teacher. I knew that for many years before becoming one."

Through the GI Bill, he got his teaching degree at Western Illinois University in Moline and now teaches fourth and fifth grade (mixed class) at Longfellow in Rock Island.

"I loved teaching adults at the bicycle shop. I love teaching them how to repair their bikes, but kids here in the classroom make me the happiest. I hold them accountable for their actions. We learn together. We are sarcastic about things. We have fun, learn life skills and talk about current events.

"I get to see change in them. For example, in my fifth-grade math class there was a word problem about 5,495 cookies, how many dozen would that make? One boy raised his hand and asked 'is that a baker's dozen or a regular dozen?'

"I was so excited that his mind was thinking like that. We had talked about baker's dozens a few weeks before and he remembered and used it. Things like that remind me that I am doing something that I love and it's amazing I get paid for it. It's not a job to me."

Mr. Villalobos, who lives in Moline with his blue heeler, Frieda, said he loves "teaching the kids about the world around them, along with the basic subjects required by the district.

"I love talking about current events and hearing the kids come to school the next day saying "I asked my mom about (such and such) and she didn't know what it was about. I had to tell her.'

"I've had kids come to school excited to tell me they 'saw the news and heard that Syria did this or did that.' I love to start their interest and see them continue to learn. I tell them often that learning never ends.

"Mr. V wants to learn guitar, how to do sign language, how to dance, skydiving, etc. I will never stop pushing myself, but I couldn't do that if I didn't have the basic skills that I learned in school."

After six years in the military, he said he had to make changes.

"Coming from the Army with combat experience, if you wanted something done, you yelled anything necessary to ensure it was done, including swear words. If you ask anyone who saw me at the (bike) shop, I used to bark at the employees a lot.

"I guess you can say that I am more mature about addressing people. I have to use a different tone when talking to students. My attire has changed as well. I used to wear hats backward at the bike shop with a Dickies shop shirt. Now I have converted to slacks, nice shoes and a button-down shirt.

"I love the change. I still dress relaxed at night and the weekends. I enjoy the change of pace. I often think about the bicycle shop and laugh at the good old times we had.

"I still like that I have my foot in the door and it's fun to have dinner with Bruce (Grell, Healthy Habits owner) to see how things are going, but for the most part, my new career consumes my life. I am happy coming to school."

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