“It would be really selfish of me to keep all this awesome science stuff to myself.”
This week’s feature: Rita Mikita
Physics Teacher, MC2 Stem High School
We’ve interviewed some of the freshest educators we know. They operate from a place love, care, discipline and personal sacrifice on behalf of Cleveland's precious students. Let these stories honor ALL Cleveland teacher who do this important work every day!
What got you interested in becoming a teacher?
It would be really selfish of me to keep all this awesome science stuff to myself.
What might we catch you doing when you aren’t in the classroom?
I experiment not just in the classroom, but in the kitchen! I love getting creative with food and testing out new ideas. I spend a lot of time with my husband and 1-year old son, going on adventures in our beautiful community of Gordon Square with our dogs. I still go to a punk rock show once in a while, too.
Why does high quality education in Cleveland matter?
It matters everywhere. But it especially matters in places like Cleveland where education truly opens doors for kids. Part of being an educator is ensuring students have the tools they need to become adults. For many this means college, so we do everything we can to prepare them. But college isn't for everyone, and for those students its our duty to support their passions, be they trades or arts or anything they can see themselves doing after graduation. I WISH I had the teachers and the opportunities my students have when I was in high school!
What is the most challenging thing about your work?
Most of my students walk in with the burden of systemic disadvantages they have no control over. It's a huge challenge sometimes to chip away at these burdens and let them realize that the classroom is THEIR space to take control of THEIR brains. I'll admit, it takes a lot of persistence to work through it. I have students every day who are tired, distracted, hungry- but when they start realizing their autonomy and agency, the challenge is all worth it.
Tell us about a time that you knew that you made a difference in a young person’s life.
When I'm feeling down or overwhelmed, I always think of the students I've made lasting relationships with. Students who are now young adults and still take time out of their breaks home from college or work to stop by and visit my class, or who email me at 11PM on a Sunday night to proofread their essays. I have a 9th grade teacher who I am still friends with to this day; she made an impression on me and for the last 15 years I've always known I have her trust and support. It's really special to think that I am that person for some, and that the bonds we form are more than one school year long.
Tell us about a time your life was changed/impacted by a student or because of a student.
My first year teaching in Cleveland was eye-opening. Our students collaborated with Refresh Collective and wrote, recorded, and performed their own songs as part of a greater Capstone project, songs that exposed some of their raw feelings and experiences with issues that affected them on a daily basis. The creative outlet the project provided was a platform for truth, sometimes painful reality. The baggage that some of our students have is more than a teenager should ever have to carry. The project hit me really hard, and I dropped many of the by-the-book teaching strategies I was taught and decided to try to lead with compassion, patience, and understanding above all. I might wear my heart on my sleeve now sometimes, but I think I am a better teacher for it.
What would be your message to your peers?
Fail lots! Then get back up and try again, there is no better way to learn!