Teacher Stories: John Patrick, Science Teacher at North Plainfield High School

I used to be an industrial chemist. I was going through a time of unemployment. 9/11 had done a lot of damage to the economy and I was feeling down. I knew I had knowledge that was of value, and being unemployed was not good for me, so I decided to go into teaching, and I found that loved it. I love that I get to influence a lot of kids in a positive manner. I teach them about science, but I also share a lot of my real life experiences with them, outside of teaching.

I grew up with a lot of non-English speakers in my own home. My grandparents were from Lithuania, and they didn’t speak a lick of English. My father and mother did not speak any English either until they started mingling with the English speaking community. The community where I teach has a large Latino population. So hearing kids in my school speak a foreign language that I do not understand, isn’t unusual for me, it isn’t frightening; it is what I am used to.

Chemistry can be quite abstract. Yes, you can see a reaction right in front of you, but why did this reaction occur? It is not easy to convey to them. So you move slowly, you take your time, and you use any commonalities that you have with the languages, and build your way up to understanding.

I have had a number of kids tell me they wish I was their father. It really saddens me to know about broken homes and dysfunctional families, but my classroom is a safe space for them. One fellow who was not one of my students, but a brother to one of my students, he used to drop by and just chat with me. He felt safe with me. He graduated high school a couple of year ago, but I did not know at that time that he was homeless. His father and mother had kicked him out of the house. I am not sure where he was living at the time, but now he is living with his aunt and uncle, working and paying rent. And now he thanks me profusely for being there for him when he was going through that period in his life. It is saddening to hear their stories. We all have our problems growing up. Ozzie and Harriet, the TV show I watched as a kid, didn’t really exist in real life. But it is what life should be like.

Interview and portrait by Gregory Andrus. If you would like to nominate a teacher for this twice-monthly series, please email him at andrusgregory@gmail.com.


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