One of the most important people in your child’s life is his teacher, and when he has a good one, everything improves, from marks to social activities to general happiness. Move wants to celebrate the teachers who make a difference in your children’s lives. For our first issue, we profile Nathan Karstulovich, a Grade 3-4 teacher at Gandatsetiagon Public School in Pickering.
On the first day of school each year, Karstulovich gives the kids in his class an important message: “I tell them, ‘This is a chance for you to start fresh. I’m not worried about your reputation from last year, or whether or not you can do math. I want to give you a chance to have a positive experience with each subject. It’s your opportunity to show me your best and to show me the person that you are.’”
Although he often has some idea about which students are coming into his room, where they might stand academically, and what social issues they may have had, he tries to put that behind him so it’s not on his mind at all. That idea of a fresh start, something new every year, is one of the things that attracted him to teaching.
Karstulovich was not a teacher right from university. “I started out in business as a product manager at a furniture company,” he says. “I was bored, but I had friends who were teachers, and I liked what they were doing.”
He had also coached hockey and baseball and enjoyed those things. So after four years working, he went back to school, completing teacher’s college in Buffalo.
One of his biggest challenges as a teacher is students who don’t believe in themselves. They may have struggled in the past, and even when he tells them that this is a chance to start again, it’s hard for them to get there. “Students tend to get really worried about marks,” he says. “But I find that elementary school is more about positive relationships, positive social aspects, trying different subjects and finding out what you’re good at.”
Karstulovich helps students get past that attitude with lots of positive comments. And he uses a technique called a Bump It Up wall, popular in Durham Region. There are four levels on a chart on the wall, and the students’ work gets posted at a certain level, with the goal being a level three or higher. He makes sure that each student’s work is on the wall, even if it’s at a level one. Then he helps students “bump up” their work to a higher level. And, he says, the students help each other with that as well.
That work to improve is not limited to the children in his class. “I tell the kids to tell me about what I am doing wrong in the classroom,” he says. “The kids are shy at first. But I will be first one to bring things up. I’ll say, ‘You know what, I tried this today and I didn’t really like it. And I am going to change it.’ They get to the point where they know they really can say it.” And, when that happens, he knows that he’s achieved one of his primary goals: building positive relationships with his students.
Those strong relationships develop partially because he is so involved with extra-curricular activities. He coaches several teams, including cross-country, volleyball, softball and track and field. “Coaching definitely has a positive impact on my relationships with the students, says Karstulovich. “It allows me to have a relationship with students who are not in my class, which helps build respect between me and students around the school. ”Students tend to have more respect for a teacher when they see the teacher as a person rather than just a teacher. Being a coach allows them to see that person side of me.”
To nominate your teacher, contact us and tell us in 100 words or less why he or she is the best.