For Michael Kryszak, the classroom was once a refuge from a difficult home life. Now the Wagram Primary teacher looks to do for his students what his teachers did for him.
As a fifth grader dealing with his parents’ divorce, and death of his maternal grandparents, school offered “routine and rigor,” but also the motivation to rise overcome his circumstances.
“My teachers, Mrs. Rossbach and Ms. Mazzone, recognized that there were problems at home, but due to both their rigorous expectations and also their ability to show me they truly cared, they kept me grounded and on track,” Kryszak said.
Voted by an overwhelming majority of Wagram Primary’s certified staff as the school’s 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year, Kryszak is one of the two finalists for countywide Teacher of the Year. He holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from St. Andrews Presbyterian College and a master’s in curriculum and instruction in language arts.
“Mr. Kryszak is amazing,” said Wagram Primary principal Jamie Synan. “He definitely goes above and beyond with everything that he does. He’s really good at differentiating instruction in his classroom - he really knows those kids and knows what they need in order to be successful.”
Kryszak has taught with Scotland County Schools for four years, teaching fourth grade language arts and social studies at Shaw Elementary for two years and at Wagram Primary for one. This year, Kryszak, along with another teacher, took the helm of a class for eight students identified as emotionally disabled.
“It is a group of students who have pretty severe emotional disabilities and behavioural problems,” he said. “None of them are academically challenged in any way, they just require a smaller setting and more structure in their environment, as they weren’t doing well in a regular classroom. It’s to try to give them a more structured and supportive environment that hopefully they’ll be able to transition out of.”
Kryszak’s class serves students in all elementary grades, currently consisting of first, third, and fifth graders who rotate through different subject areas throughout the day.
“In this setting what really helps me is my flexibility,” Kryszak said. “Depending on the students’ moods and the atmosphere, we may have to completely switch our schedule around to accommodate everybody.”
He found his expectations of the year stretched to the limit on the first day of school, when one of his fifth grade students proved to be so behind in reading that he struggled with a second-grade picture book.
“It truly was a shock; in the past I have had some EC students who have truly struggled with reading, but I never had one that old who had behavior that was impeding him to learn how to read,” said Kryszak. “That student in particular had very internalized behavior, he would put his head down and walk away.”
By working with the student individually, turning walking and chatting into work on word skills, the student learned to motivate himself and enjoy the challenge of learning to read, Kryszak said.”
Outside of school, Kryszak has worked as a therapeutic riding instructor at St. Andrews University for four years, where he works with disabled children of varied age. He said that he will not be returning to his current classroom next year, terming it a “tough setting.”
“This year has really pushed me to hold to my expectations for students and expectations of work because they will challenge anything and everything you say and do, so you really have to hold true to what your expectations are and make them clear to the students.”