Before she decided to become a teacher, Hillary Mekanik was a theater major at VCU. After two years, she decided she’d rather use theater as a hobby or skill and said she sort of “fell into teaching.”
Mekanik teaches fourth grade at C.C. Wells Elementary. She said her days as a theater major still come in handy when preparing lessons.
“I feel very lucky to have a job that allows me to use hobbies and skills I’ve grown up with. My theater plays a big role, and it keeps me going,” she said.
Mekanik said she sticks to tradition in terms of following the curriculum and school guidelines, but if that does not work, she can be spontaneous and improvise, whether it’s with singing or rapping.
A non-traditional method she has used in her lessons includes having students work as surgeons. Her pupils had to play “operation” and their task was to complete a math equation in the right order to keep the patient alive.
Mekanik previously taught fifth grade for four years and said she switched when given the opportunity. A lover of social studies, she knew that fourth grade was highly involved with the curriculum, and she wanted the experience of teaching fourth-graders.
Upper grades. she said, are about relationships and knowing what students are into outside of school. She believes that being a younger teacher helps her connect with students.
“I definitely had some teachers in high school who really worked to establish those connections with students, and I felt like I’m all about relationships,” she said. “By getting to know a student, you know what they like and their interests and what they excel in, and finding their success and interweaving those two things helped me want to do the same thing for my students.”
Mekanik said her favorite part of being a teacher is knowing that she is learning just as much from her students as they do from her. She relishes being a cheerleader for them.
Even though being a teacher can be a demanding profession, Mekanik said having the school administration, her students and their parents as a support system helps everything work together cohesively. She sees herself being a teacher as long as she’s able to and loves her job.
“I love what I do,” she said. “The students are why I come to school every day. It’s not for the money. It’s for the joy of seeing them find joy in learning.”