I have had good teachers and bad teachers in my life, but Mr. Czakowski stands out as a teacher who made the greatest impact on me as a student and as a person. Mr. C. was not perfect. In fact, they often strayed from their lesson plan. We were often only part of the way through the lesson when the beep would indicate that the class was over. Sometimes he would even continue to talk, albeit very fast, trying to summarize his thoughts before we had gathered our books and gone out the door. What was special about Mr. C. was his authenticity. Every word and action indicated that he was there for one specific reason- to prepare us for a future as critical thinkers who made the best decisions that we could in life.
Mr. C. had to deal with many situations in the classroom, but what differentiates him from other teachers was his approach. He never shamed anyone or used negative language- ever- even when a student clearly deserved it. Whatever was happening in the classroom became part of the lesson that was being taught. Given that the subject matter was social studies, this provided a lot of material.
I will be honest, I was often the problem student. I was not having a very good year. There were family problems, as well as all of the stresses of coming of age. I think I had it in my head that I could be the class clown, and at first I was encouraged by the fact that Mr. C never seemed to punish me or put me down when I disrupted the class. He kept me after class once, but he did not discuss my behavior, or how I was causing problems for him. We were both already aware of that. He asked me about my life in general. We had a good one on one discussion about it, actually. I ended up being late for my next class, as we got into the themes of my life and how they were aligned with problems in history, and how they related to various famous psychological or sociological phenomena. From that day on, I began to relate everything that Mr. C was teaching to my own personal life, and something changed.
I suppose I was still disruptive, but making jokes turned into challenging what was being said and playing Devil’s Advocate. I began to do my homework in a different way, because when it was linked to how it affected me personally or provided insight into my own life, the material itself became different.
Looking back on it, Mr. C was a teacher who took a lot of risks because of his belief in something greater than just compliance with school rules or maintaining order. He seemed to appreciate each one of us as individuals. Also, he appreciated the material he was teaching. It was not dry or repetitive. In fact, I sometimes joked that his course was about making us all future revolutionaries. He went far outside of the textbook to tell us stories from his personal life, some of which supported the text and some of which didn’t. He often said shocking things, even things which seemed to work against schooling, such as describing the need to learn to learn, rather than to learn how to behave.
I never told Mr. C what an impact he had on me as a teacher, but years later that impact remains. I approach education and schoolwork differently. Somehow it is easier to learn, given the lessons from Mr. C’s classroom that were probably not on the core curriculum outcomes or performance measurement goals which he had to answer to. I feel that today I am a better person and a better student because of this teacher. I hope that he is still teaching, and still creating “future revolutionaries” who think critically about themselves and the material they are learning.