For Halstead High School Social Science teacher Timothy "T.J." Warsnak, ironically there was little bit of math involved in his decision to pursue a career in education. It was a simple equation, really — atmosphere plus personal interests added up to the right mix to get Warsnak to consider teaching as a profession.
While Warsnak said he had some influential teachers growing up with an infectious enthusiasm for the job, it was his family that truly pushed him down that path — with a number of them being in the educational field, including his mother, who started out as a speech pathologist in Wichita.
Education was important to his family, but more than that it was viewed as a way to help people. Add that philosophy in with Warsnak's love of history and sports (coaching golf at Halstead), and a career in the classroom just clicked.
"How all those were going to come together, it seemed like teaching was one of those fields that allowed me to help people, and I could see that, but I also love history and so I was able to do those things — coach, be around history and help people; it just kind of all melded together," Warsnak said.
After graduating from Pittsburg State University, the Kansas City native began his teaching career out west in Deerfield before he decided he wanted to be a little closer to the city and took a position at Halstead — where he has taught for the last 19 years.
Recently, Warsnak was recognized for his passion and dedication helping Kansas students for more than two decades, as he was selected as one of eight 2019 Kansas Teacher of the Year finalists (from a group of 24 semifinalists representing four regions of the state) by the department of education during a Sept. 8 ceremony in Wichita.
"That was a total shock in that, I've always felt that I teach well, but I also know that there's so many great teachers around. At that banquet, (being) able to hear what each of those teachers went through, what they had done in the classroom and what made them exceptional, there's awesome things going on in classrooms all over the state," Warsnak said. "I'm very proud with what we do here at Halstead High School as well, but then to be recognized in that way was really special."
Quickly, Warsnak turned that award back on the educational atmosphere he has been able to be a part of in Halstead.
Both the students and teachers have been great to work with and helped push Warsnak in his career, though he singled out the faculty in particular for helping establish that environment — one that he credited for earning him this most recent honor.
"I want to share it as much as I can, both with other teachers, but also back here at Halstead High School. It's not just that one teacher in the classroom," Warsnak said. "Having an environment around makes that happen to make teachers comfortable to try new things. That's not easy to build, and I think we have that in this region of the state and here at Halstead High School."
Case in point, Warsnak and fellow HHS social science teacher Derek Schutte teamed up some years ago to turn a fairly standard assignment — weekly current events reports — on its head. In doing so, the teachers came up with the idea for a "Fantasy Geography Draft," meshing elements of world news with fantasy football.
Students research and breakdown countries from around the world in preparation for their pick on draft day — when they choose what country's current events they will track and report on for the semester..
"After they've researched them, we make a big production of them coming up to the stage, turning in their picks; we announce it and we interview them. Then after that, after they've drafted these countries, the rest of the semester they follow them and follow the current events happening in there in a bit of a league-type thing where the more events that they can find about the country and explain, then they get more points as far as fantasy geography points," Warsnak said. "It just makes it a little bit more engaging and a little bit competitive that makes kids want to go a little bit deeper into the learning."
Engagement is a key aspect of Warsnak's educational philosophy, which is why he likes to bring a lot of variety and personalized learning to his lessons.
Different approaches to an assignment are encouraged if Warsnak can construct an opportunity around that idea that stays within the curriculum — like turning a speech/report into a podcast — as he is very much a proponent of setting his students up for success.
"The main thing that I enjoy is just the interaction with the students, just building a relationship with them and trying to show them a positive, bright spot in the world. I think a lot of Halstead High School is that way," Warsnak said. "I want them to end up feeling that they could be successful in whatever ventures they're going into. They don't know what's going to be in their future, but if they can have a sense of confidence that they can achieve and that they could take on a task, that's kind of the first step for them. Whenever they're in my classes, I want them to feel like they're being successful and they have those opportunities."