Teacher Stories: Susan Mrazek, Howell High School. Principles of Psychology and Advanced Placement Psychology
“I feel I was always meant to do this job. My passion is to help my students to walk away from my class better people. I feel that being a psychology teacher, I can add so many life lessons to their curriculum. For example, I teach “Positive Psychology.” I teach the students that when you do good things, it has a ripple effect. If you do good in the classroom, they will turn around and do good in the community and in their home life. It creates a better classroom, a better school, and a better community. All just from teaching and reinforcing goodness and kindness and generosity.
I recently showed the students the movie, ‘Pay it Forward.’ Then I give them a Pay it Forward project. They have to help someone else, and then write a paper about their experience. They are not allowed to spend any money, and they have to go somewhere safe. But I tell them, if you have a single parent, clean the entire house for them when they are not home. Or help your grandparents with some kind of project, like painting their front steps. I had one boy that really struggled, and told me he was not going to be able to do it. But then one day he came in and told me he did it. I asked him what he did, and he said, “I was mowing my lawn, and I usually stop when I get to the boundary of my neighbor’s yard. But this time I decided to keep going, and I did my neighbor’s entire yard. But then he told me how next week, his neighbor mowed his lawn for him in return.
Every Friday we do something called, ‘Positive Comments.’ When they get in the classroom, they rip off little pieces of paper and write kind things about each other. They put them in a box and hand them to me. Some sign them, others don’t. I read them all out loud. They will say things like, ‘I am so glad we became friends this year.’ Or, ‘You look really pretty today.’ I have had kids ask other students to the prom this way. At the end of the year, they get really mushy. I teach mostly seniors, so some will say things like, ‘Seeing your smile every day in class helped me get through the school year.’ Or, ‘I am so glad we became friends. I know you are going to do great things after you graduate.’ It really makes our classroom like a family. They all look out for each other. I have students that years later tell me they still have all of their positive comments.
These kids are such sweethearts. Every Monday they ask me, “Mrs. Mrazek, how was your weekend?’ And I will tell them and they listen and get really interested. They genuinely care. This town is filled with kids that are genuine and hard working. They are our future, and I have total faith that they are going to do a terrific job running our world.”
Interview by Gregory Andrus
Portraits of the Jersey Shore