Teacher stories 13: following your passion

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. 

4 thoughts on “Teacher stories 13: following your passion”

  1. You know I'm old enough that there was no inkling of Google when I went to elementary school. so, we didn't have a "genius" hour. But, we had (in many grades) a two or three hour segment every week where we did the same thing. But, it was more organized.
    We had to use the library one time. To research historical data- so we also learned the Dewey Decimal system. (yes, I AM that old, I know the Library of Congress System, too.) How to use a card catalog. How to write a list of references for a paper and attribute items (footnotes, etc.)
    And, how to extend what we learned from history (or current events) to our idea. To cite how what we learned taught us what was right or wrong with our initial ideas. How we changed our ideas.

    Go for it, Patricia. Our next generations need this!

  2. Wow! This is one incredible woman, Alice! An amazing, inspiring teacher, a loving parent and a cancer coach who has been through a very dark phase in life. Great interview, indeed! And, so motivating!

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