FSA fourth grade teacher John Grijak recalled sitting in his adviser’s office during his last year at college. John had excelled as an accounting major, and sure, the subject was interesting enough. After all, excelling at something tends to build confidence. But something didn’t feel quite right. Would he be happy?
“I remember my adviser saying, ‘Once you get into the real world, things are going to change. There’s a lot of drilling here in school, but you have so many different opportunities you could pursue. Besides, just look at your grades! They say you should be an accountant.’”
Life as an adult commenced. He landed a good accounting job, met his wife, moved to Atlanta, and had a son, after which he became a stay-at-home dad. The move made financial sense for his family, but in retrospect, it also opened his eyes to a new world of opportunity. He volunteered at his son’s preschool, coached T-ball and essentially did everything he could to spend more time with his son—but the experience turned out to be so much more.
“I remember people asking me, ‘Why aren’t you in education?’ After a while, I started asking myself, ‘Yeah, why aren’t I in education?’’
During this time John and his wife were considering schooling options for their son. They could tell he was bright, and the last thing they wanted was for him to fall through the cracks. They wanted small class sizes and instruction tailored not for answers on a standardized test but for actual student needs, both academically and socially. They found all this and more at The Friends School of Atlanta.
Meanwhile, John pursued a graduate degree in education at Mercer University and student-taught at various public schools. The public schools weren’t bad, but besides their large class sizes, they took a prescriptive approach to teaching. The approach certainly worked for some, but it just didn’t feel right for him. Children are human beings, he thought, not numbers on a balance sheet or scores on a standardized test.
No wonder The Friends School of Atlanta felt right. When he substituted at the school, he met middle schoolers who weren’t anything like the stereotypical tween and young teenager. They engaged in class, spoke their minds and knew how to present a convincing argument. When he landed a full-time job at Friends as an elementary school teacher, he began to see why the school’s approach worked as well as it did.
Teachers continually adapt their lessons to meet the needs of the children in their classrooms. Every class is unique, as is every student. Wouldn’t a cookie-cutter approach leave some students behind?
Besides, a cookie-cutter approach doesn’t reflect the world beyond the classroom. John certainly hasn’t lived a cookie-cutter life, and his students won’t either. Life isn’t a standardized test or a prescribed teaching plan set in stone. People change paths and adapt to do what’s best for them, their families, and their communities; Friends graduates learn to think about all three.