By Bill Waychunas – What’s up Marquette Educator blog readers? My name is Bill Waychunas (class of ’09) and I’ll be contributing my thoughts and experiences each month on this site, hopefully for your enjoyment and also to give you something to think about.
Since this is my first ever blog post, I figured that it would be a good idea to give you a little background about who I am so you can have some context for my future posts.
Let’s start with how I got into the wonderful profession that is known as teaching. As a high school student, I had a knack for math and science. This led my high school counselor to recommend that I pursue studies in Engineering. Luckily, my high school offered an Architecture and Engineering course, so I signed up.
This class (seriously) changed my life and not necessarily in the way you’d think. What I learned was that I was pretty good at the design and construction part, but that I found it to be extraordinarily boring (no offense to any engineers out there). Since this wasn’t exactly challenging and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days working in a cubical, I knew that this wasn’t the career for me. I scrambled at the last minute to change my class schedule to something that would maybe help me to figure out the answer to the “what do you want to do when you grow up” question as college application deadlines were fast approaching. I found my answer in a course called Invitation to Teach.
In this class, I spent the last two periods of each school day serving as a teacher’s assistant at the local middle school. After some serious thought, I selected a 6th grade social studies classroom because, although not my strongest subject area, it was the content that I was most passionate about. Over the next few months, I spent time working with small groups of students, helping out the teacher, and even taught a few lessons by myself.
I was hooked.
I knew that I wanted to go into teaching. Ironically, this all happened around the time that college applications were due, and I can vividly remember racing home after school and erasing the box on my Marquette application (yes, those were still the days of paper applications) where it said “Engineering” and checking the boxes for History and Secondary Education.
Once I started courses at Marquette, I began to really appreciate the opportunities that the College of Education gives freshman to get into classrooms and work directly with students. These experiences, as well as an immersion trip with the Center for Urban Teaching (which I highly recommend), showed me the deplorable inequities that exist in the American school system. Knowing that I could contribute to changing this injustice, I decided that I wanted to teach in a low-income school.
After graduation, I moved to Las Vegas with my then girlfriend, now wife, who was working and getting her masters from UNLV. We spent four years living in the desert where I taught middle school social studies at an almost entirely African-American K-8 charter school in one of Las Vegas’ poorest neighborhoods. The school had a bad reputation and had chronically underachieved, but with an awesome middle school staff, we were able to turn things around and give students a respectable education.
During my final year in Las Vegas, I was drawn out of the classroom and served as our the School Improvement Coordinator. We made some significant changes for the better, but in the end, there were too many factors outside of our control which doomed the school and students to mediocrity at best. (maybe I’ll go into more detail in another post).
My wife and I were unhappy with our jobs and longing for a change of scenery. We were both able to find employment in Chicago, which is where my family is from, and moved here during the summer of 2013.
“Finding employment” doesn’t exactly give justice to where I am now. I had the opportunity to be a founder of a new school on Chicago’s South Side with one of the most prestigious charter school networks in the entire country. So, for the past two years, I have served as the 9th grade Civics/Reading (non-fiction) instructor at Baker College Prep.
Baker is really an awesome place. In my mind, it represents what quality education should look like in urban districts and in the two years that we’ve been open, we’ve had tremendous success. As a 9th grade team, we saw the top growth on a Pre-/Post-test in the entire network despite our students starting the school year with some of the lowest scores in the network. We’ve been able to create students that love to learn while maintaining a warm-but-strict culture. Just as our staff works their butts off to make a difference on Chicago’s South Side, we want our students to be able to go out and do the same.
Our school is named after Ella Baker, a civil rights activist. In our mission, we seek to create “change agents” out of our students that will go out and make “multi-generational” differences in their worlds. At the end of their 9th grade year, our students complete a “Be the Change” project where they identify a problem in their community, research its causes, then develop and present a plan about how they, as an active citizen, can solve it. Check out this link for an article detailing the event: http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20140612/south-chicago/from-guns-trash-baker-students-offer-solutions-neighborhood-problems
Outside of my school life (yes, teachers can and should have personal lives), I am an avid Cubs and Marquette basketball fan, enjoy spending as much time as possible outdoors with my wife and our dog Riley, and enjoy a fine craft beer.
With that, I hope that this post has shed some light on who I am and where I’ve been as a teacher. I’m looking forward to sharing more of my thoughts and stories with you in the near future.