BY MARCY SHORTUSE – J.T. Tremaine, a new teacher at The Island School this year, is a man of many talents. He learned at an early age by watching his father, Robert, that knowing how to do many things and doing them well – will feed your family and feed your soul.
He is going to be doing both of those things beginning next week, when he officially starts as a teacher at The Island School. It will be his first full-time teaching position, and he is more than excited to be working in Boca Grande.
J.T. remembers virtually nothing about the place he was born, which was Norman, Oklahoma. His father owned a horse racing track there until two things occurred: Oklahoma pari-mutual laws changed in the early 1980s, and J.T.’s parents found out he was deathly allergic to horse dander.
“I am allergic to everything with fur,” he said. “I do love reptiles, though. We have a Kenyan sand boa, two red rat snakes, a Honduran milk snake and a Russian tortoise.”
J.T.’s family ended up in Cape Coral before he was 3-years-old. His maternal grandparents lived there and his mother, Katie, wanted to be closer to them. His father worked with a wastewater treatment plant contractor. Through the years his dad held several interesting jobs, including being a member of the Navy. He was a mechanical engineer, a business consultant, a designer of industrial buildings and more.
J.T. remembers a time when his father’s business was doing quite well, and they lived in a condominium next to the Cape Coral Bridge. He was only 10 at the time, but remembers how beautiful it was. He also remembers a particular fitness instructor/wrestling champion neighbor.
“We lived in the same complex as Diamond Dallas Page,” he said. “I knew his cat. I thought that was pretty cool.” That also meant that J.T. switched schools frequently. After attending several elementary schools his parents separated when he was 12, and he spent a few months living with her in Miami. He returned to Cape Coral to live with his father and attended Suncoast Middle School.
He also attended The Academy, an experimental type of school for gifted students, which was housed within an alternative learning center. He attended school there in a separate wing of the building with approximately 100 other students, and they had mixed-grade classes.
When J.T. got into high school, he was ready to buckle down and get it done. He completed his freshman and sophomore years early, then was dual-enrolled in high school and college at Edison State College (now Florida SouthWestern State College).
At some point in his educational career he came to the same moment of clarity that many young and brilliant students have.
“I went to college and realized, ‘Hey, I can just do this and be done.’ So, I didn’t.”
While he did have some college courses under his belt by the time he left the academic scene, other life paths diverted his attention and he didn’t complete his Associate’s degree until some time later.
From there J.T. found work as an Apple-certified technician working at a call center in Fort Myers, a center which handled most Apple computer calls in the Southeast United States. He had always been interested in computers, and did a lot of tech work in high school with his friends. He did that for about two years, but was always looking for the next new and interesting way to support himself.
In the mean time, J.T.’s dad had a new business proposition – a bingo hall in Fort Myers. It was opened in 2001, and J.T. began working there as a bingo caller.
“It was a good living,” he said. “You’re volunteering because it’s a charity situation, but you live on tips.”
The bingo hall closed down after his father started to have health problems, and J.T. went to work for Earthmark Companies, running their auto-dialing call center for a large housing community.
J.T. then spent two years with Breeze Newspapers, working as a graphic designer. He had always wanted to explore a more artistic aspect of computers, and he got his chance to do so for two years. Then the company closed down his office, and he realized it was time to return to school and the calling he had since he was a young boy – teaching.
Back to Edison State College he went, and he finished his coursework to become a teacher.
J.T. started substitute teaching for Sarasota County Public Schools, with an average class size of 25. That means he is more than prepared for The Island School’s smaller class sizes. He will be teaching third, fourth and fifth grade students, as well as second grade gifted classes.
He lives in Englewood with his wife, T.J., who works at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and their many reptiles. They have two daughters, Airyn, 14 and Madison, 11 and J.T. also has a son, 11-year-old Ethan, who lives in Cape Coral with his mom. He’s excited to get to teaching on our little island.
“When I was in high school my thought was that I was going to be a teacher,” he said. “I love the idea of explaining things to people in a way they can understand, which I got to do when I was in tech support. I really enjoy teaching kids particularly, and seeing that sense of understanding in their eyes light up.”