Lee County Schools Teacher of Week — Gregg Halkuff
NAME: Gregg Halkuff
SCHOOL: West Lee Middle
GRADES/SUBJECTS YOU TEACH: 7th Grade Social Studies
FAMILY: Wife of seven years, Jamie, who teaches Science at Fuquay-Varina High School; two kids — Olivia, 5, and Jacob 2
What led you to a career as a teacher?
I never wanted to be a teacher, but I have two close family friends who are long-time educators, and they always told me that I would love teaching and be good at it. I resisted being a teacher for a long time, starting my professional career in human resources.
Who were your favorite teachers as you went through school, and what did you learn from them?
My 9th grade Geography teacher, Mr. Napp, used to show us slide shows from all the places he would go every summer. He was a 30-year-old single guy and in every country he would have different girls in the photo. I wanted to be him, and travel the world meeting girls, and have cool stories to tell. He constantly reminded us that you have to do stuff, instead of talking about doing stuff. In many ways, I followed in his footsteps by traveling the world and coming back to share my experiences in order to inspire others. Plus, I did meet a lot of girls.
Has becoming a teacher been all you expected it would be?
Yes and no. I expected it to be difficult, but I didn’t know how invested I would get in the lives of my students, and how they would become a part of my family. I never thought I would be as important to any of my kids as I sometimes am. For some of my students, I am the only positive male role model they have. It saddens me, but it fills me with pride and is a great responsibility.
How has teaching changed since you were a student?
Certainly the technology has changed, but the relationship between students, teachers and school in general has stayed the same. I deal with students now who are EXACTLY like I was back then. After my first full year teaching, I made a point to email some of my old teachers and apologize for my behavior as a student. Karma had come full circle.
What “makes your day” as a teacher?
I love the “look” that students get when they make a connection between history and today, and it becomes relevant in their lives. I also love to hear how much the parents of my students are learning at home because the kids are excited to talk about it to someone.
What’s working in schools today?
Technology is helping teachers and students to bridge the gap and bring learning into areas that the students are most comfortable in. I like finding new and exciting ways for the students to create educational content, to use what they have learned and display it in visual mediums. Technology is a tool of learning, but it’s a very powerful tool.
What’s not working?
The public perception of teachers makes our jobs that much harder, because a lot of what we do is about inspiring others. When you feel like you are fighting for respect and honor, it’s harder to give everything you have to your students. The focus on testing has taken a lot of spontaneity and organic teaching moments out of our classrooms.
Our students come to school less prepared to learn than ever before. Schools have become second homes, and we are providing many of the things they aren’t getting in their community and homes, like manners, appreciation for education, work ethic, food and appropriate public behavior. Teachers have to work so hard just to make sure that all students are in a good place to start learning, and only then can we be effective.
What’s your favorite memory of your first year as a teacher?
I had the smallest room in the school, and I’m pretty sure I was also given the most difficult students. I wanted to quit a couple of times, constantly wondering if I was cut out for teaching. My mentor, Patricia Howell, had me come spend a whole day in her class observing. I watched her laugh, smile, tell jokes, but most of all TEACH, and I remember thinking that I can be myself and still be a great teacher. She told me that I HAVE to be myself and that’s what will make me a great teacher.
How would your “teacher” persona handle you as a student?
I deal with this all the time, because I wasn’t the easiest student to have in class. I was talkative and hyperactive. I couldn’t sit still, and I always wanted to know “why”? I have a student that reminds me of myself every year. I always find it hard to discipline them and admittedly let them get away with a little bit more than I normally would. Student me would probably drive teacher me crazy.
Best piece of advice for other teachers?
Always remember why you wanted to become a teacher in the first place, because it’s not for the money. Teachers want to change the world, and we get to do it, one student at a time. When you are overwhelmed, tired and frustrated, don’t forget that you are planting the seeds in a child’s mind that will one day blossom into our future. Don’t let the naysayers get you down, but don’t accept the lack of respect from parents and the public. I’m a professional, and this is my craft, and if teachers don’t start demanding the respect we used to get, then we have lost a valuable tool in changing the lives of our students. Without respect and honor, we have a difficult time garnering trust.
Be an active participant in your education. You only get out of life what you put in, and the habits you start in school will stay with you for your whole life. I tell my students all the time to DO STUFF, anything, and not to sit on the sidelines and let life pass you by. One of my favorite quotes to my students is, “You rarely ever regret the things you did, but more likely regret the things you didn’t do.”
Respect teachers with every comment, conversation and attitude. Instill the value of education at a young age, because students shouldn’t need to be bribed to care about school. Advocate for your child, but assume that the teacher is telling the truth, because your child won’t respect us if you don’t. Send your child to school ready to learn every day, and that means emotionally and physically.
See Halkuff/ page a15
If you were superintendent for a day, you’d:
I’d hire more technology teachers to train and model the best ways to utilize the laptop one-to-one program. Education has changed and teachers don’t get a lot of time to try out new lessons or experiment with online applications, but some teachers really have a knack for it. These teachers need to use that skill to design lessons and work with classroom teachers on implementation. We’ve invested a lot of money in the technology, and now we have to maximize that investment.
What about your job would surprise your non-teaching friends the most?
I think most people would be surprised how rarely I stand in front of my class and lecture. Also, the things my students tell me about their parents, I could write a book. They tell us everything, with no filter, and it would be shocking to non-teachers.
If you could somehow magically instill one truth into the heads of your students, what would it be?
Dreams are great, but chances are you won’t be in the NBA, NFL, MLB, or be a movie star, musician or celebrity. Education is the great equalizer and can make all your dreams come true.
When you think about today’s kids, you:
Feel sorry for them because many are growing up with a false sense of their own greatness. The constant praise and lack of real challenges have given them this idea that they are the center of the universe. The real world will not be kind to them and they will have trouble finding happiness, especially because many are being trained that material things are the key to happiness.
If one of your students was asked for a one-word description of you by a student who hadn’t had you in class, what would that one word be?
Funny (gregarious — if they knew what it meant).
Favorite movie about school or teaching:
Breakfast Club by Jon Hughes.
How would you summarize your teaching philosophy?
The job of a teacher is to get the most out of each student by figuring out the way they learn best and finding ways to let them express it. No two students are alike.
What five things must every teacher know?
How to multitask, remain calm under pressure, be yourself, remember why you became a teacher, and how to live on very little money.
What’s special about your classroom?
My classroom is a “safe” place where we can talk about anything, even the most difficult of topics, with an open and honest mind.
What’s special about your school?
The staff of West Lee get along really well. The people I work with are kind and loving, and treat each other like a family. It’s not just a job for most of us, it’s who we are.
Most unusual question you’ve ever gotten from a student?
Can a man get pregnant?