Mr. Polukoshko taught at the end of the hallway on the second floor of Central Memorial High School in one of two Biology classrooms. He was that teacher who made a difference. It’s actually difficult for me to put it into words. There were certainly other teachers who made a connection with me at the school — several of them — but Mr. Polukoshko was a teacher who stood out for me. Maybe I can summarize it by how he made me feel:
It was as if he had a sign that read: “You are welcome here. You will be respected in this classroom. You will be heard.”
He actually never said those things, nor had them printed out. It was the way he interacted with his students that made us know he was a trusted educator. He was always kind, soft spoken and understanding — never raised his voice and was always that calm, confident presence in the classroom. He wasn’t flashy at all — some might even call him ‘traditional’:
- He wrote on the ‘green board’ at the front as well as the overhead projector in the middle of the classroom;
- We took class notes, did lab assignments and wrote tests;
- We sometimes watched a National Geographic film;
- Repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat.
We never went on a field trip — never even went outside to the grassy area behind the school.
But, here is where he stood out for me. He knew me, cared about me and helped me when I needed it. I even came back to him in my first year of university and told him that I just couldn’t seem to understand cellular division — mitosis and meiosis — they confoundedly confused me. He taught me on his own time after school in his classroom.
He cared. That’s all it took.
Every time I needed something he said ‘Yes’. Teachers like Mr. Polukoshko make those connections with students every day. They show through their words and actions that their students matter to them — that they are important and worth their time.
So, to all of the teachers out there who make those connections with students — who make them feel valued and appreciated — thank you. Thank you for all that you do within the school day, and outside of the day that make an indelible impression. You make students believe in themselves and their futures.
And, by the way, I learned to love the intricate, cellular chromosomal dance of both mitosis and meiosis. So much so that it was one of my favourite units in my own teaching.
And I owe that to Mr. Polukoshko.
Happy World Teachers’ Day 2021.