Back to School Interview: Lisa Miller Kawalek

For back-to-school week on Magnificent Nose, we’ll be featuring interviews with teachers and other education professionals. Lisa Miller Kawalek teaches at Bayonne High School in Bayonne, NJ. In addition, she’s a teacher with Judith Kawalek presents Kindermusik, where she leads music and movement classes for babies and their caretakers.

Magnificent Nose: Could you start out by telling people the sort of teaching work you do, and why you do it?

Lisa: I am a high school Social Studies teacher. This year I have 9th grade World History and 10th grade US 1. My students are not necessarily the AP type, but they are usually good kids. I do it because I am a theatrical person who loves history (BA, Rutgers College, History and Theater Arts double) and I get to do 5 shows daily with a captive (though not always captivated), interactive (though not always awake) audience, and I get to have fun talking about subjects I love.

What you did over this past summer?

This summer I basically hung out with my 2 boys, seven and two and a half. We took a few weekend trips to Cape May, went on a camping overnight in the Catskills, and did a couple of day trips to various places (Turtle Back Zoo, Bushkill Falls). I read a few books and played too much Candy Crush.

What are you looking forward to most this school year? Will you have any specific projects or new programs to work on?

This is another tough year for teachers in my district. We are entering our fourth year without a contract, and on top of that we are being bombarded with a new state-required evaluation system along with new student state tests. These things make the morale quite low, as it has been for the past several years. What I do look forward to is being back with the students and trying (and hopefully succeeding) to engage them in the process of questioning what they think they know and getting them to understand that we don’t live in a vacuum. Everything happening today is a direct result of what happened 20, 50, 100, 300 years ago. If a handful of them can see that, I’ve done what I set out to do.

In addition to being a classroom teacher, I am also the Yearbook adviser. That is my big project. I am usually a staff of one–the kids come to the first meeting and I lose them to soccer, choir, art club, etc. soon after. I like doing the book, although it is a difficult, arduous, overwhelming, thankless task. But the end result is (usually) a beautiful yearbook.

How do you prepare for the transition from summer to the school year?

On August 1st, I usually begin keening. Then I suck it up and remember that June really isn’t that far away. I make promises to myself that “this is the year I stay organized. This is the year I get things done efficiently.” Or whatever. These promises make it about as far as October.

With my kids, [this time is] a little harder, especially for the two-and-a-half year old. The big one is in 2nd grade, so he’s busy. Little guy isn’t used to Mommy being out all day. So far, he seems ok, though. I miss being with them all day, but at the same time, I was getting a little tired of the constant fighting between them and of watching “Arthur” and “Fireman Sam.”


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