Nonprofit organization Project Lead The Way (PLTW) provides a transformative learning experience for PreK-12 students and teachers throughout the U.S. PLTW instructors create an engaging classroom environment for paths that include computer science, engineering, and biomedical science, and they encourage students to think critically and solve problems applicable to real-world scenarios. While the curriculum is engaging as is, it cannot stand alone and requires a dedicated, enthusiastic instructor to bring its lessons and lasting messages to life. At Fegely Middle School, that instructor is eighth-grade PLTW teacher Troy Pawlak.
“It’s essentially a STEM-based introduction to an engineering curriculum. My specific job is along the lines of what tech calls automation and robotics work,” Pawlak said. “We work a lot with building small models of mechanisms, teaching kids how to do basic programming, and adding motions and sensors.”
Pawlak has been teaching for the last five years, starting out as a math teacher before moving into the PLTW curriculum.
“PLTW looked fun and I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” Pawlak said. “It’s a very hands-on class where kids are able to work at their own pace and learn to problem solve outside of normal, day-to-day school activities. I love seeing them think outside the box and tackle different problems.”
Pawlak had been passionate about pursuing a teaching career since high school. He taught math for two years at Calumet High School and one year at Willow Creek Middle School before his current position at Fegely Middle School.
“I had always really enjoyed helping people and even enjoyed helping friends with math homework in high school,” Pawlak said. “I figured if I liked solving those problems then why not just keep doing it and make a career out of it? So that’s what I did!”
Influence from Steve Livingston, a mentor-turned-colleague, reassured Pawlak that he was on the right career path during Pawlak’s earlier student teaching days.
“I wouldn’t be who I am without Steve,” Pawlak said. “He is a math teacher here as well, and I did my student teaching days with him at Fegely. He’s been there for me and helped me out with everything I’ve needed since my last year of college, and I am continually grateful for his presence in my life.”
Working with his students and watching them learn serves as a daily reminder of why Pawlak does what he does.
“My favorite part of being a teacher is when a kid has that ‘aha moment’ and you can see the lightbulb of understanding go off in their head,” Pawlak said. “The moment where they get it still excites me every day, especially when it’s something they’re being exposed to for the first time.”
Though recent adjustments due to COVID-19 have changed the way he approaches the classroom this year, nothing has stopped Pawlak from ensuring his students receive a quality education experience.
“Having to transfer such a hands-on class to a completely virtual classroom was challenging and definitely a change,” Pawlak said. “I was very fortunate that PLTW put out a lot of good resources for me to use and share with the kids that made things easier, though I still miss that hands-on factor.”
For Pawlak, one of the best aspects of teaching at Fegely is the atmosphere created by his fellow teachers and staff.
“I work with a lot of great people here at Fegely. Finding a place where I enjoy teaching not just because of the students, but also because the people around me make it better is special,” Pawlak said. “Keary Weaver is another colleague I’m really appreciative of. I would be lost without him a lot of days, and his help does not go unnoticed.”
Outside the classroom, you can find Pawlak enjoying the great outdoors with his wife Tayler.
“I got married in July and my wife and I love starting a fire, watching a movie outside, or just driving around in our jeep with the top down,” Pawlak said. “We’re always up for random camping experiences and vacations to get away for a bit and enjoy nature.”
Whether he’s in the classroom or camping out under the stars, Pawlak moves through life with the mentality that a good laugh does wonders for a person’s wellbeing.
“It’s okay to laugh sometimes,” Pawlak said. “Whatever happens, good or bad, find a way to laugh about it and know that it’s all going to be fine in the end.”