STUDENTS | March 18, 2022
By Ms. Annette Olszewski, IB Theory of Knowledge Teacher at Kennedy High School
My classroom is one of the best representations of my teaching style. I’m known for my extravagant room that is full of stuffed animals.
At Kennedy, I teach a two-year class called Theory of Knowledge, which is the core course of our IB program and requires a lot of critical thinking. Because my room is a safe space that is friendly and inviting, it enables my students to have deep conversations while still feeling at ease.
I believe that to be a good thinker, you have to know yourself first. Once my students start to understand themselves as thinkers, we talk about how different groups within society affect our thinking, leading to us all having different perspectives on the same idea.
Sometimes my students become fixated on the idea of the “right answer,” and it’s up to me to help them become more comfortable in the gray areas associated with everything from technology to religion to politics to the arts.
Having these conversations with students is especially meaningful to me because teaching is my second career. Prior to being at Kennedy for the past 10 years, I was an actor. I always knew deep down that I would teach at some point, but it was difficult to let go of my other career goals.
I transitioned to teaching to find a little more meaning in my life. Now, 10 years later, I can say that teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and also the most rewarding.
If I had to distill 10 years worth of relationships, memories, and experiences in one word, I would choose “community.” My goal has always been to build a community and a culture of respectful fun in my classroom, and that has allowed me to build amazing relationships with the students at Kennedy.
Our students are always trying to make the world a more equitable place, and that inspires me on a daily basis.
I want to offer my students a new perspective on how they make decisions and then back up those decisions as they navigate through life. My class centers on logic, and I want them to understand that there can be errors in your logic when you’re building an argument.
Therefore, you need to be careful and clear with the evidence you use to back up your claim. I also enjoy teaching moral philosophy and the factors behind what we consider right versus wrong.
This is already challenging work made all the more challenging by the pandemic that we are currently facing. I’ve had to be very conscious of my students’ mental health and focus more on social-emotional learning throughout the year.
I was recently named a Golden Apple finalist, and I can’t think of a better year to receive that honor. To find out that someone believes in you and your teaching, especially during such a difficult time, was just perfect. I screamed so loud when I found out.
My students should have those special moments that uplift them too. I hope my classroom can continue to be a space where they occur frequently and for everyone.
Ms. Olszewski is one of our 13 finalists for the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. See all of the finalists here.