John Pienkowski, seventh-grade science teacher at Brandon Middle School, has been selected as one of five finalists for the National Association for Alternative Certification (NAAC) 2018 Outstanding New Educator Awards. According to the NAAC website, finalists were selected from a national pool of nominees, are in their first three years of teaching, were certified through an alternative route program that is a member of NAAC, and demonstrate passion for and commitment to the success of every student.
Pienkowski is beginning his second year as a teacher after earning his license through Regent University’s Career Switcher program. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he served for 20 years in the U.S. Navy and retired in 2015 as the commanding officer of the USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19). It was there that he began to consider teaching as a career after retirement.
“I was in charge of the lives of 365 sailors and marines and an almost $2 billion warship. I had to do a lot of training and teaching,” said Pienkowski. “I knew I was coming up on the end of my career and had been working with young officers right out of college and young sailors right out of high school. I enjoyed teaching them and seeing that ‘aha’ moment. I thought to myself, ‘I really enjoyed doing that.’”
Continuing in a career serving others was a factor as well.
“I joined the navy to serve my country, to serve something bigger than myself. I felt [teaching] was a calling,” he reflected. “I thought, ‘You really love science. You are really energetic about teaching young people. You served your nation. Go serve your community.’”
Serving seven years as a Boy Scout leader and raising two teenage boys, Pienkowski said, prepared him with even more experience to work with middle school students. Nevertheless, as a new teacher, he is still learning.
“I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” he said. “In the military, when you give an order, the orders are followed. Here you have to repeat, clarify and give directions again. You have to reinforce. In the back of my head I knew that was going to happen. That was probably the biggest culture shock.”
The self-described “nerd” says that he’s been passionate about science since he was 7-years-old. “When I saw the movie Star Wars I was hooked. That has not changed in 40 years. I’m in hook, line and sinker with all things science.”
He’s hoping to help students find their own “hook, line and sinker” passion through teaching.
“I do absolutely love it—making those relationships and reaching out to the kids and seeing how they can get excited about not only science but learning in general. I love sharing my passion and making them passionate about something.”
The National Association for Alternative Certification plans to announce the 2018 Outstanding New Educator Award winners in December and will recognize them at its national conference in April 2018. For more information about the NAAC, visit www.alternativecertification.org.Tell your friends! Follow us!