Today's teacher story is with Patricia Kwarciak, who teaches third grade at Huth Road Elementary School.
When did you know that you wanted to be a teacher?
I think that, when I was growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher, but my high school counselor talked me out of it. So I actually was in a different career field, and I wasn’t happy. I was a bank auditor. It wasn’t me and it wasn’t my personality, and that’s the reason that I was so unhappy. So I did a little soul searching, and I went back to school. I am so happy that I did because it was one of the best decisions that I made.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Canisius for my undergraduate degree in business, and to Medaille for my masters in education.
Did you teach in any other school districts before Grand Island?
Actually I was very fortunate. I started out as a teaching assistant about 15 years ago. I started here at Huth Road Elementary School. Then the following year, I was hired as a K-1 teacher at Sidway Elementary School. I was a looping teacher (a looping teacher teaches the same group of students in both their kindergarden and first grade years). It was fun. It was a great group of kids. Actually, they are graduating from high school this year. After two years at Sidway, I came here and taught fourth grade. I had a couple of my former students in fourth grade. It was great to see how much they grew academically as well as physically. I’m going to their graduation in June. I’m looking forward to that.
You were a fourth grade teacher. When did you become a third grade teacher.
I taught fourth grade for a couple years, and then there was an opening in third. I came down to third, and I love third grade. There’s so much that I love about it. I love that the children are independent enough to work on some things on their own. They are so open to learning and being challenged.
Could you describe something that your class is doing this year?
In my classroom, we do something called genius hour, which was started at Google. Employees are allowed 20 percent of their work time to do a pet project, something that they are passionate about. Basically, it is adapted for the classroom, where students are encouraged to find out what they are passionate about and then learn about it. So they pick a topic, they research it, they find out all about it, and they present it to the class.
I had a student last year, who wanted to become a chef. Basically, I act as more of a guide so I told her to research a couple of famous chefs, interview some local chefs, which she did, and she put together a beautiful Power point Presentation. She created a cookbook, and then she brought in samples of food that she made for the class to taste.
When the students have an active role in what they want to learn about, it makes them more enthusiastic about their learning. We’re just starting out this year. We have our wonder wall. The students come up with questions of certain things. One student last year wondered what it would be like to have a pet pig. The student researched everything involved, including what to feed it, how to take care of it, everything that was involved in having a pet pig. Its a lot of fun. The learning never ends in here. Even as an adult, the learning never ends. We are always learning. There is always room to learn.
What makes you happiest about teaching?
I think that I love sharing knowledge. The learning never ends. I love to see how excited the kids get when they’re excited about learning, too. You see their eyes light up in excitement.
What would you like to tell parents?
I think that what we try to do here in our classroom is that we have this thing called the growth mindset, where we like to take on challenges and we don’t easily give up. If we come across a problem that seems a little difficult at first, we just need to figure out a way to maybe attack the problem differently or look at it differently and keep trying. So I would say to parents is to challenge their children at home. Let them become a little frustrated and try to figure out problems on their own. But do so within reason.
What do you like to do when you're not teaching?
I am very involved with my children and the sports that they are in. I have two children, a boy (age 17) and a girl (age 19). If I am not here, I am usually at their sporting events. They are involved in volleyball and hockey. My daughter is working full time, and she is in school full time. She wants to do something in the law enforcement field. My son is graduating from high school this year and his intent is to go into biomedical science. He wants to become an anesthesialolgist.
I also have two furbabies at home. Two dogs. My little bentley. He’s a King Charles cavalier, and the world revolves around him. He is my little guy. Then my other furbaby is a rescue dog that was actually my mom’s dog. He is a little Shih tsu.My daughter wanted to keep him because he reminded us of my mom, who passed six years ago.
Now I am going to be doing volunteer work at Roswell Park. I’m going to be a cancer coach for folks that are going through cancer. I have an attachment to Roswell. I am a cancer survivor. Two years ago, five days before Thanksgiving, I had my last chemotherapy treatment. I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I am almost two years in remission so I am very thankful for that. In order to be a cancer coach, you have to be two years out from treatment.
I just feel the need to give back. So our class is making blankets for the pediatric patients at Roswell.
What would you tell someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer?
Stay positive. That’s what helped me a lot. Even though it might seem dark and difficult, we have to keep thinking positive.