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Teacher Appreciation Week - Interview with member Chris Poknis

Teacher Appreciation Week

For Teacher Appreciation Week, the state federation shines a light on one of our members who shapes the minds of future generations. Get to know a little more about one of Baltimore city’s most outstanding teachers, Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU) member Mr. Chris Poknis. (answers edited for clarity and length)

How long have you been a Baltimore city school educator & BTU member?

I have been a Baltimore City School teacher for 22 years, 27 years total. I have been a BTU member my entire 22 years in the city. As for the union, it’s great to know any concerns or questions, we know they’re going to be handled. There’s no hierarchy where someone is unattainable or unapproachable with our needs. The union’s always been great like that. It’s a great resource to have such a friendly, approachable union. 

What keeps you coming back to education year after year?

I know it's cliche, but the students. The connection you make with your students. Seeing them grow, watching the "lightbulb" moments. Knowing that I can help someone make a difference in their future. To have students understand you care about them not only as students but as people. To help them understand that school is more than just academics. To show them they can put their faith in someone, to let their guards down, and to build relationships knowing they can count on you. 

Teacher Appreciation Week

The parents are also special to me. One example that comes to mind is one of the biggest things parents say to me, especially parents of little girls, is thank you so much. Your passion for math, my daughter hated math before your class, and they  would cry about math. Now, they love it. I take pride in that because there seems to be a trend in education where girls tend to go to reading, and boys tend to go to math and science. There’s a serious lack of female scientists and mathematicians and the passion for it… there’s always been segregation that way and it’s neat to see people break from that.  

Who were influential educators (professional teachers or others) who inspired you?

As I look back on my educational experience, one individual stands out to me the most. In 9th grade I had Mrs. Polger for English. English was my least favorite subject growing up. From the first day she had very high standards on us academically and also as individuals. It seemed tough at first, but as the year continued I realized the time and effort she was putting into each student and the unique relationships she built with each of us. She called Us "Mr. and Ms.".  I realized she wasn't being difficult; she was showing us how to expect the most out of ourselves. I received A’s in that class. She even called my parents to tell them I got a perfect score on the final exam. I had the pleasure of having her again in 12th grade. Years later when teaching kindergarten in Howard County, I noticed her in the grocery store. I wanted to walk up and tell her "thank you" and her lessons still drive me as an adult. I wanted to tell her she was the biggest influence on why I became a teacher. Unfortunately, I had cold feet and did not. I wish I would have. I wish I would have thanked her for all her help, not just as a student but as a person. 

What's one thing you hope all of your students take from you that they always hold onto?

I hope all my students take from me that it's ok to fail. It's ok to make mistakes. I have seven children at home. I tell my children it's not about failing or falling down, it's what you do when you get up. I do the same with my students. I want them to struggle. I want them to fail. How you respond when you fail, how you act when you take chances, that's how you grow. Take those risks, try your best, and I'll help you get up, dust yourself off, and grow. 

Teacher Appreciation Week

What's one thing that you learn from your students?

What I learn from my students is that it's ok to have a bad day. You don't always have to be in the best mood. You don't always have to be the happiest person in the school. You don't always need to have all the answers. When you can be ok with that, you will find things in your day that allow you to find peace. You will get a little smile from a student, a little laugh, a little glimpse of why we are here, and why I do what I do. I learn from my students who might be crying one moment and fighting with a friend, to laughing and  playing with that same student at recess, that it's all going to be ok. Just make it through the day, or just that moment and smiles are right around the corner.

Teacher Appreciation Week

The AFT Maryland wishes Mr. Poknis, and all teachers in the state federation a Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

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