ELKHART — Teachers in Elkhart County are busy readying for the first day of school. Whether it’s their first year teaching or their 15th, these men and women all have a mission to impact students’ lives for the better. Here, a few local teachers share their thoughts on teaching and on the upcoming school year.
Reading and Relationships keep her going
Ann Carboneau is passionate about getting kids to read. That push is behind a lot of what she does as an English teacher at Goshen Middle School.
She’s heading into her 11th year teaching, and part of her prep work at the end of every summer includes organizing the massive book collection in her classroom. Carboneau purchases books with her own money and lends them to students.
“Kids are reading mostly dystopian (futuristic) books. ... I think that’s because they want to imagine other worlds,” Carboneau said thoughtfully while looking for free space for a stack of books on Wednesday, July 31. “At the beginning of the year I barely have space for all the books, but in the first few days of school probably 100 of them will be checked out.”
She admitted that middle school students are at a tough age, but said it’s also “the last shot” to engage students in learning and particularly in reading before they get to the demands of high school.
Carboneau said she starting teaching because she was involved in youth ministry loved building relationships with middle school-age kids.
“I just love relationships, and I love kids, all of them,” Carboneau explained. “I let them know that. I’m not going to walk away; I’m going to be here. A lot of our kids don’t have that outside of this building.”
She continued, “(Middle school students) are different every day. One day it’s like they are completely grown up and the next day it’s like they are 5 years old. They change their minds, they don’t follow through ... but it’s those difficulties that I love.”
Carboneau offered this advice for new teachers:
“Sleep when you can — it’s like having a new baby,” Carboneau said. “Find another teacher you like and lean on them. Don’t be afraid to show you don’t know what you are doing. None of us know — that’s why we are teachers, because we want to be learning all the time.”
School doesn’t have to be a drag
Steve Starzyk has been teaching history and government at Elkhart Community Schools since 1990. He is starting his 15th year at Elkhart Central High School this fall.
Starzyk said he likes to keep things fun for his students when he can, just like one of his high school teachers did for him.
“I went to LaPorte High School, and I went through high school not enjoying it that much,” Starzyk said Thursday, Aug. 1, in his Central classroom.
Starzyk explained that his football coach, Dick Deardurff, had a fun and engaging teaching style that made Starzyk seriously consider teaching as a career.
“I’d been through 12 years of school, including kindergarten, and then I meet this guy senior year,” Starzyk said. “And he was just a great guy. He was a great teacher. I thought to myself, I can do this.”
Starzyk said that he has less time to do social things or just have what he calls “life skills chats” with students because state standards have increased.
“I’m not going to say those things never happen, but it’s difficult,” Starzyk said. “What we are facing as teachers is different these days.”
Starzyk said he’s amazed at the resiliency of his students.
“I read their stories and (other things they’ve written) and I think, ‘Wow, I never had to go through this,’” Starzyk said. “(Students’) parent support system is sometimes little to none, and some students are doing it on their own at Elkhart Central. Considering the situations some of them come from — they are amazing.”
Starzyk said he would advise new teachers to respect their students, stand up for what they know is right, and establish authority without being too harsh.
“A lot of (new teachers) come in trying to be the boss, the mean guy — you don’t have to do that,” Starzyk said.
Teaching gives him energy
Lewis Caskey didn’t always plan on teaching, even though he has several family members who are teachers.
Caskey, a 2013 Goshen College graduate who will be student teaching at Goshen High School this year, said he took an education class early in his college career as an English major and instantly felt at home. That feeling continued in other education classes, so Caskey figured he was destined to be a teacher.
“Even though my education classes were the ones getting me up at 7 a.m., they were the ones that gave me the most energy,” Caskey said while sitting inside the room he will be teaching in at Goshen High School.
He will be in Marilyn Graber’s English classroom for six to eight weeks as one of the last requirements for his degree. This experience is one that could determine the path he ultimately takes in life.
“This is like doing a real teaching job — everything has been leading up to this,” Caskey said. “If it’s not a good fit for me I’m going to have some major figuring out to do.”
Caskey grew up in Goshen, so he’s also concerned about maintaining a professional attitude while teaching students he may know.
“I know some of the students are younger siblings of my friends growing up,” Caskey said. “That can be fun, but I’m definitely thinking about being intentional about remaining professional, about staying ‘the teacher.’”
He added, laughing, “I’ve definitely got my ties picked out.”
Caskey said he doesn’t have a romantic view of the future for educators.
It’s a different system now,” he said. “I know I’m not going to just come in and change (students’) lives from the get-go. There’s a system I need to work within and there’s a curriculum I need to teach. Right now I’m looking forward to learning the system.”
He said he is pushing aside any anxious thoughts and diving in to the first few days of the school year.
“I can sometimes get caught up in the details of all the things I don’t know yet,” Caskey said. “I try not to worry to much. I’m an optimistic person.”
Caskey is particularly pleased that his student teaching gig is so close to his home that he can ride his bike there every day.
“I love cycling — I try to use a car as little as possible,” Caskey said.
get students to love learning
Lavonne Shetler will also be student teaching at Goshen High School, working in English teacher Sue Neeb’s classroom.
The Goshen High School graduate and soon-to-be graduate of Goshen College said she feels confident that she can handle even the more “frustrating” students because she was a frustrating student herself.
“I like being around kids and helping them learn,” Shetler said Friday, Aug. 2, sitting in her usual study nook at the Goshen College library.
She added, “I just love learning things, and I know it’s because of the teachers I had. I hope I can help my students be excited about learning and pursue it on their own time, outside of school.”
Shetler is an avid reader and she said she’s looking forward to helping students find books they love.
“I read a lot over the summer to get ready (for student teaching),” Shetler said.
She said the most important part of teaching is face-to-face interaction with students.
“i think teaching is one of those things that should never be automated or come through a computer,” Shetler said.
She continued, “I think technology is a good thing ... but sometimes I think that technology might limit the ways we let people learn. Sometimes it’s important to have that hands-on experience.”
Shetler said that society sometimes doesn’t give teachers the recognition they deserve.
“Knowing how to learn is the most important ability or trait that anyone can have,” Shetler said. “We learn to learn from teachers. I don’t think our society reflects that.”
In preparation for the first day of school, Shetler said she is sleeping as much as she can and thinking about how to balance teaching with the rest of her life.
“Right now, I have no idea how teachers do that, how they manage to plan their lessons and still have a life outside of school,” Shetler said.
She will be student teaching until the end of November, then she plans to substitute teach until she can find a permanent teaching job. That might be in Goshen, but Shetler said she’s open to other locations.
Goshen Community Schools start Friday, Aug.9, and Elkhart Community Schools start Wednesday, Aug. 14. To find more information about the first day of school for Elkhart County students, visit www.elkharttruth.com.