Montgomery teacher encourages personal connections
MONTGOMERY — Seventh grade language arts teacher Brittney Monoski’s room at Montgomery Area Middle School, beckons you in to sit down, pick a book and find a corner to settle down and read.
The decorating scheme is creative, welcoming and upbeat, just like Monoski.
“I’m very positive and I really like to make an individual connection with each student, I think that’s very important. If you don’t, they think you don’t care about them, so why should they care to do your work,” she shared recently.
“That’s one of my top priorities, so I do a lot of individual conferencing with kids about their writing. It takes forever, but it’s worth it to me. I can still work in little things when we’re talking about their writing, but I can still ask them about their basketball game or whatever it might be. So, each of them feels like they’re special,” she added.
Her third grade teacher, Mrs. Houser modeled that for her. Monoski has clear memories of her time spend in Mrs. Houser’s room.
“She started with different things, even back then,” Monoski said.
“She had this thing on the corner of your desk and you used to get little checkmarks, like if you wouldn’t push your chair in. But, she had a prize box. That was like the best thing ever,” she said, adding, “That got me thinking about the positivity side of things for when I would become a teacher.”
Then there was her high school biology who made a personal connection with each student and a ninth grade communications teacher, Mrs. Carrell, who, Monoski said, “took all the time in the world to respond to our journals.”
“It wasn’t just like good or great. She would have a conversation with us and we looked forward to that every day — going back in and seeing what she wrote in our journals. That had to take her forever,” she said.
But, even before she reached school age, Monoski had her mother, who was a teacher, as a role model.
“My mom was a first grade teacher, so of course I had a lot of influence from her. I just always wanted to work with kids, ever since I was young. I did a lot of babysitting and so I just knew that was the right career for me,” she shared.
“It’s like a feeling you have. You know it’s the right thing. There was no question,” Monoski added.
The certainty that she was doing what she was supposed to be doing has served Monoski well through the difficult times in her life. Several years ago, Monoski was diagnosed with cancer, something that she shared with her students.
“When I went through cancer, my seventh grade group that year had so much empathy. People think 12 and 13-year-olds can’t be that way, but they can. It was amazing,” she said.
“They knew that I needed them to be good for the substitute, or they gave me little notes when I left to go for my surgery. So many kids doing so many things. I have so many notes I’ve saved and so many cards that I’ve saved. They were just so empathetic,” she said.
Today she is still struggling with the residual effects of her treatment.
“I’ve told them (the students) ahead of time — I’m going to have to sit down, I’m going to make mistakes. Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed and I’ll tell you that I need a minute and I’m going to have to sit down,” she stated.
Monoski admitted that she always looks for the good in her students, allowing them to make mistakes and showing that she, too, makes mistakes. In the classroom, she stressed that she is very structured in the sense that her students know what to expect, which she feels is necessary for their age level.
“They know the expectations. I’m very solid with the behavior of what I expect them to do,” she said.
She doesn’t feel that kids have changed all that much through the years, but that the circumstances surrounding education have changed. And in the midst of it all, she looks for the good in her students.
“I’m always thinking that every single student I teach is someone’s baby,” she said. “Someone would die for that student and so I think about it that way. How do I treat my own children? They become my children and I’m going to try to treat them the same.”