In the year since South Forsyth High School German instructor Jonas Strecker was crowned as Forsyth County Schools's 2018 Teacher of the Year, the tall, fifth-year teacher says that he’s worked diligently not to let the honor get to his head.
To hear him tell it, over the past two semesters Strecker and his students have worked harder than they ever have, working long hours of early mornings and late nights, striving for new heights and unwilling to rest on their laurels.
Strecker said that the last year has been a whirlwind of activity with trips abroad, conferences, graduations and many, many awards by his German-speaking students.
But at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, Strecker said that he was most worried that the “well-oiled machine” that makes his classroom run might be headed for a plateau or cliff, as a host of his brightest students graduated in the fall, leaving younger, less-experienced students to fill in the void.
“It was more a fear of, ‘When is this all going to fall apart?’ because it's just, you know, they've gotten better and better and better,” he said. “And that hasn't happened yet … I mean, those kids really stepped up.”
Strecker said that even after being named teacher of the year, he had to approach the new school year and the new class of students as a “clean slate,” accepting that they are different than their predecessors.
“I couldn't come in August thinking, ‘I'm Teacher of the Year, so everything's gonna go automatically, now I can switch to autopilot,’ because those kids are new kids, more or less,” he said. “I still have to start over with them and do the same work, and they have to do the same work or even more work.”
To illustrate how this new class of students has stepped up over the past semester, Strecker points to a tall gold first-place trophy that his German students won over the past weekend at the 2019 State German Convention. Strecker said it’s the third year in a row a student from his group has won the American Association of Teachers of German Georgia Student of the Year award.
Strecker said that this win is unprecedented and the student, Ayonica Bhattacharya, will spend three weeks in the summer studying in Germany.
In addition to the Georgia Student of the Year award, Strecker said that they won a number of different awards at the event including, first-place overall, the Langenscheidt Award and more.
He said that with each honor and award the group receives, they believe that the next class of students works that much harder to measure up and achieve.
“I don't know if we inspire them,” he said. “I hope we inspire them, but it's just that the kids also see what the kids before them have done, and they take it as a challenge … they get inspired and motivated by that.”
At the same time, Strecker said that with every award the group receives, he feels that much more pressure to make his lesson plans and classes perfect, but that can’t always be the case.
“I'm trying to live up to that reputation, but sometimes you just have a bad day and that's OK,” he said. “You have to accept that to you can't be Teacher of the Year every day.”
He said that over the past year, Strecker has come to understand that when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter to the students whether you are the Teacher of the Year or not, provided that the energy, love and excitement is there.
“They get super-excited, don't get me wrong … but at the end of the day, it's all about starting over and teaching them as if it were day one,” Strecker said. “Because it doesn't help them that I'm Teacher of the Year, if I don't do my job anymore.”
In little more than a month, the 2019 Forsyth County Teacher of the Year will be announced from a pool of seven candidates in the county school system. Strecker said that he has been asked to be part of the interview process for the seven teachers.
As advice for those teachers who will be receiving word this week that they have been chosen as finalists, Strecker had one piece of advice — “Don't try to pretend you're someone you're not.”
“Just do what you do best ... that's why you are selected Teacher of the Year at your school,” he said. “Just tell them what you do, what has made you great and there's no need to embellish anything.”