Mr. Zemanek is Awarded by Science Association

Mr. Zemanek is Awarded by Science Association
Posted on 10/22/2017
Mr. Zemanek is Awarded by Science Association

In a little more than a year, Charles Zemanek has gone from student teaching at McMichael Middle School in Nacogdoches to heading up the science department on the campus.

Add to that Rookie Science Teacher of the Year in the state of Texas, and well... it’s all fast enough to cause whiplash.

Zemanek was notified earlier this month by Science Teachers Association of Texas he was the organization’s selection as top young teacher for the state. He will be in Houston in November - on STAT’s dime - to accept the award and attend the group’s annual conference in Texas.

STAT is a statewide organization of science teachers - ranging from those at the elementary level to college professors. Zemanek was nominated anonymously on STAT’s website for the honor, and McMichael assistant principal Nancy White, who’s also a member of the organization, wrote the recommendation.

“I’ve always loved science,” Zemanek said Wednesday. It’s also a bit ironic, he says, because Zemanek first went to Stephen F. Austin State University to become a social studies teacher, another subject he enjoyed himself while in school.

When Zemanek arrived at McMichael last year as a student teacher, he was assigned to a seventh-grade class studying Texas history, principal Tim Mullican said. But an opening occurred in sixth-grade science, and Zemanek became a January hire to fill the vacancy.

“It was just his ability to connect with the kids,” Mullican said. “I like to put it this way: He’s able to put the cookies on the bottom shelf.”

Mullican selected Zemanek to fill the opening in the science department, and the teacher got his state certification in science - thanks to an innate curiosity as well as a longtime interest in the subject that dates back to his own days in school.

“I describe it as he’s your atypical teacher,” Mullican said. “He has a gift that very few people have.”

While Zemanek was answering questions Wednesday during an open period at the beginning of the day, students were in and out of the classroom - some to say “hi” and others to check on assignments.

“How’d you do?” Zemanek asked one student, the morning after a McMichael football game.

The boy had scored two touchdowns.

“Do you know how you did on your test?” Zemanek inquired. That was a 92 for the eighth-grader, who shared a fist bump with his teacher on the way out the door.

Another student came in shortly, searching for his ID badge. “It was cut in half, you remember?” Zemanek said. “Do you have money to get another?”

Before the boy leaves the room, he’s got cash in hand while headed for the office to get a new ID, with Zemanek calling out after him, “And I better get change back.”

“I love my kids,” Zemanek said. “There’s no way I win this award if my kids weren’t awesome.”

And that  goes for his colleagues at McMichael.

“The faculty here is just as awesome,” Zemanek said. “I’ve yet to meet a person here that doesn’t care for their kids.”

Wednesday’s lesson included discussion of the recently discovered kilonova, the dramatic interstellar collision of two collapsed stars that happened roughly 130 millions years - the powerful gravitational waves are just now reaching Earth.

Zemanek typically keeps the lights turned down in his classroom - he calls it calming for the students who sometimes show up during open periods for the soothing atmosphere. Strings of white lights on the ceiling provide a relaxed glow while fish swim leisurely in glass tanks located at one end of the classroom.

Zemanek teaches three eighth-grade science classes along with a sixth-grade class. Many of the sixth-graders he has are considered at-risk learners, he said, but their test scores have skyrocketed.

The speed the class is progressing frees up time for some experiments, too. Coming up is a project for the sixth-graders to construct windmills - to learn about transfer of energy. The goal is to measure how many volts each windmill produces, Zemanek said.

That has Mullican heaping praise on the 22-year-old Zemanek.

“He’s a better teacher after seven months than I was after seven years,” said Mullican, who realized he was onto something shortly after Zemanek moved into the science class at mid-year.

“He was coming into a classroom that already had established procedures,” Mullican said. “And he was able to make it his own.”

Zemanek goes out of his way to deflect his principal’s compliments, as well as the award that will soon have his name on it, instead choosing to highlight the abilities and efforts of his fellow teachers.

“These are long days,” Zemanek said, saying many teachers are on campus 10 hours or more. “They’re putting in as much love to these kids as their own.”