- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

PORTAGE, Ind. (AP) - Tim Pirowski remembers the fear that gripped him as a youngster as he prepared to ride a theme park roller coaster.

Pirowski uses that example for his sixth-grade language arts students to get them interested in a story about fears and phobias.

“If they’re interested, they’ll put forth more effort,” he told The Times (https://bit.ly/1vrKPhj ). “I don’t want them to dread coming to class every day. Language arts is one of those classes where kids don’t want to read and write at that age, and that’s a big chunk of what they do in my class. I try to give them stories about myself growing up.

“So I told them about being scared on the roller coaster to introduce the topic of people who have fears and phobias. We’re going to talk about why you feel the way you do when you get scared about a haunted house or a roller coaster.”

Pirowski is among a dying breed: male teachers in the classroom. The number of male teachers in schools across the country is decreasing. The decline in male teachers is due to several factors, including salary and working conditions.

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who is also an education professor at Indiana University Northwest, said having male leaders in school adds to the level of discipline, and male teachers serve as positive role models for students. “Years ago, there used to be mostly male teachers and over time that has changed, and education has become a female-dominated profession,” Smith said.

Pirowski, in his 11th year of teaching, loves his job because it is new every day.

“At this age, I’m trying to get them to take a more active role in their education,” he said. “It’s hard for a sixth-grader to understand the choices they make now will affect them down the road. I tell them they are no longer kids but young adults. It’s time to make good choices and take ownership of what they’re doing.”

Pirowski said the middle school years are the hardest, with lots of new things going on and lots of hormone changes.

“It’s a different age. They are dealing with a lot of things and trying to figure out who they are. You either love middle school or you hate it. There is a lot of growth, from the beginning of the year to the end,” he said. “When I see these guys in a couple of years at eighth grade, they will make amazing changes.”

Pirowski also makes use of technology and hands-on activities. Students work in small groups after reading the story. One group develops a comic strip about the story, while another works on clay models highlighting the elements of a story such as the plot, theme and conflict. A third group of students puts together flash cards with definitions.

Lawrence Harris, 11, was studying conflict and plot, and he molded a clay figure of a light bulb representing the main idea, explaining that was one element of a story.

Pirowski said these days, there is a much smoother transition between elementary and middle school, and middle and high school. He said a few years ago, teachers sat down and talked about what they were teaching and what students needed to know at each grade level, developing curriculum maps.

Pirowski also said teachers are busier than ever because between 2013-14 and 2015-16 school years, students and teachers, will see three different state exams. The ISTEP-Plus test offered in the spring will be different from the one offered last year and the one that will be offered in the following school year.

“We have new state standards, so the test will be changing. The students will have to answer the questions in a different, more comprehensive manner,” he said, pointing to questions on the board.

“We want the students to get used to restating part of the question in their response. I won’t be able to leave this information on the board when it’s time to take the test. It could also be a question where there is more than one correct answer, and they will have to figure out the one that is most correct based on the text,” he said.

Students are enthusiastic and move with Pirowski from one task to the next. Brianna Weber, 11, said language arts is one of her favorite subjects and she dubbed Pirowski an “awesome teacher.”

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Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com


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