Backgrounds of succesful teachers

Noi Sandlers, Contributing Writer

The end of summer brings with it the excitement of buying new school supplies, or reuniting with friends at the end of several months of boredom for some. Or the start of a grueling academic year for others. Or even perhaps the thought of a fresh start. Whichever category you fall into, it’s clear that the end of summer everywhere signifies the beginning of college season for seniors. 

College may not be on students’ radars beginning freshmen year, but for most, secondary education is an end goal that students strive and work hard for. But between taking parents’ opinions into consideration, finding the right fit, applying and hearing back, there is a lot of pressure and stress associated with the idea of college. Being a high school senior myself, I understand how monumental it can be when applying to college. After all, I can’t help but think that where I will attend will chart the rest of my life. 

While it’s true that where I, and many others, attend college will shape our experiences and future, there isn’t a set college where we must attend in order to be successful. Many seniors fall into the trap of thinking that they have to attend a certain university to attain those social connections, a reputation, good academic standing, and eventually a respectable job. 

But what many seniors may be surprised to hear is that success comes in all different forms and that there is an unlimited amount of colleges in which success can be found. 

Solon High School teachers are a prime example of how success can be found in different paths, because at the end of the day, despite their different backgrounds, they all ended up teaching in the best school district in Ohio. 

Mr. Joseph Ferencie: Starting Over is Okay

Mr. Joseph Ferencie, the technology and engineering teacher as well as the Solon Education TV coordinator, has had a very diverse educational path. He went to Ohio State with an ROTC scholarship, straight from high school. He had the intention of being an aerospace engineer and eventually becoming an officer in the Navy. 

“I took a whole bunch of engineering classes and did 5 years of Naval ROTC,” Ferencie said. “I spent several summers on board ship and I was set to be commissioned as an officer in the Navy.”

But life took a different turn, and what Ferencie had thought was his path, wasn’t anymore. 

“Shortly before [being commissioned as a naval officer], because of medical reasons that were semi-bogus, I lost my scholarship and the vast majority of the goals that I had set for my life we’re gone.”

After that, he found his path again by going back home and working in the technology field at Seaworld. Then while looking for a new direction, he started to work in Solon High School doing sound and lighting. Mr. Curtis, who was the choir teacher at the time, observed that Ferencie worked well with students, and he suggested that he become a teacher. 

Ferencie looked into it and decided to go back to college. He received a Bachelor of Science and Technology degree with a minor in education from Kent State and then went on to receive a Masters in Education from Ashland University. 

Even though he never imagined being a teacher, Ferencie is proud of his students and finds his success in them.

“It’s year after year, semester after semester, seeing that those students who get engaged in drawing in AutoCAD or building a project in wood class,” he said. “… or seeing that student who suddenly gets turned onto something new because they didn’t realize that that part of the world was out there. It’s all those little victories that get me excited from an educational point of view.” 

When asked for a piece of advice that he would give to high school seniors, he stated that students should go to college where they want to.

 “The college that you go to, if you go to college, should be based on what you want to do with your life and not be dictated by the pressure of your peers or the pressure of your parents,” he said. “You should go where you want to go.”

Ms. Robin Joseph: Transferring is an Option

Much like Mr. Ferencie, Ms. Robin Joseph didn’t always want to be a teacher. The well-known social studies teacher (who currently teaches AP Psychology and U.S. Government) was initially interested in studying international business. 

“I wanted to go into international business, and I think I knew that from the time I was 18…I had a knack for foreign language and had done a lot of travel,” Joseph said. “I was an AFS [American Field Service] student to Malaysia, and I had studied in Austria for a summer.”

However, she didn’t pursue her international business education at first.

“I actually went to the University of South Florida my first year,” Joseph said. “I was going to swim there, and I did for a little while, but I really wanted to major in international business, and they didn’t have the program there so I decided I should transfer.”

Joseph was able to transfer because she worked hard for it and was reflective of what she really wanted. She suggests that students should be reflective of themselves in the same way. 

“I think that’s a good lesson for anybody that goes to college—If they don’t like it and if they don’t get into the school they want to get into, then there is always the option to transfer,” she said. “If you really want to do something, be reflective, figure out what you have to do to get there, and set goals.

Joseph brings up some examples of students who have transferred. 

“Lots of kids are very successful in doing that. I’ve had friends who have gone to Cleveland State and then transfer to Case Western Reserve and their diploma still says Case Western Reserve,” she said.

Joseph transferred to New York University and received a dual degree in International Business and Marketing. She then did a co-op and secured her first job through it. 

“So I started my career at IBM when I was still in college, and I did a co-op there for a couple of years, got hired, and continued working there for almost 18 years,” she said. 

Although during her pregnancy with her third child, she realized that she wanted to prioritize her children and took a leave of absence for three years. Joseph came back for a year but noticed that she wasn’t satisfied with her career. 

“I just wasn’t fulfilled with what I was doing, and I really wanted to go find a career where I could be with kids and spend more time with my own kids,” she said. 

Joseph went on to receive her masters in education from Ursuline and she also completed some Tri-C courses that were necessary for the requirements to become a social studies teacher.   

She landed her first teaching job at Solon High School and she felt like it was because of her diverse experiences.

When asked about her opinion on seniors and college, she emphasizes that even if you don’t get what you want, you always need to work hard.  

“I see so many kids who are so stressed about getting into the school they want to, getting good grades, and I always try to remind them that not doing well on a test or not getting into Ohio State is not the worst thing that can happen to you,” she said. “There’s a lot [of] worse things in life that can happen to you.”

She goes on to speak about what she believes is truly the worst thing. 

“To me, the worst thing in the world would not be not reaching your goal, the worst thing in the world would be not trying.”

Mr. Daniel McKeen: You are Who You Make Yourself to Be 

Ms. Joseph is just one of the teachers at Solon High School who hasn’t had a background in only teaching. Mr. Daniel McKeen, who teaches computer science and programming, wasn’t always a teacher either. 

McKeen started his education by attending Hiram College and pursuing a unique combination of degrees.

“I went to Hiram College for undergrad and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” McKeen said. “I really liked math so I majored in math, but I [also] really liked English so I double majored in English literature and it ended up as a minor because I didn’t get the foreign language credits, but it was essentially a major, and I had some credit time left over, so I minored in art history too.”

He then went on to grad school at Case Western Reserve on a full ride, as a teacher’s assistant, to study operations research. He was able to attain his first job through a recommendation that his professor gave him.

“The professor I [student taught] for really liked me, so he recommended me for this job as an engineer… at Penske Logistics,” he said. “So I spent about 10 years developing software and building big mathematical models to solve problems. But my favorite part out of all of it was training people to use the software. I really enjoyed the training and teaching aspect of it.”

After receiving a promotion to a manager job, McKeen felt unhappy and that he was taken from all the things he enjoyed doing. His wife encouraged him to pursue something else. 

“I was unhappy and my wife thought that I was gonna die in the job,” he said. “And I was making a lot of money, and she said you know you got to do something that you enjoy–I’m so lucky that I have my wife.” 

McKeen found support through his wife, and it was actually her suggestion that pushed McKeen to pursue teaching.

“When she said you have to do something else, I said what do I do, and she said to teach, that’s your favorite part of the job.”

McKeen followed his passion and started to work on his alternative licensure.

“So I went into an alternative licensure program,” he said. “This was 2002 and there was a shortage of math teachers.. so if you had a degree in the field you wanted to teach, you could essentially take three summer classes, probably 9 to 12 hours of work, and as long as some school district wanted to hire you, you could get hired if you took something like 6 more classes in the next two years to become a regular teacher.”

McKeen says that success for him isn’t what is typically displayed in American pop culture. 

“For me, success is two things,” he said. ”One is that I feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile, and I do, and two is I get that validation from students who come back and say ‘hey look what I’m doing in computer science, you helped me get started.’ 

“I feel like its a positive contribution. So, am I rich? Yes, I think I am; just not with money.”

When asked what advice he would give to seniors he said this:

“Almost no students say that they went to the wrong school, wherever they go they end up finding what they want to do,” he said. “You can be the sort of student you make yourself. So you can get a good education anywhere if you’re trying to get a good education. From there you can find a job doing what you want, if that’s your goal.”