Shearer teacher happy to be in classroom

Published 9:42 am Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Drawings from students, featuring a red creature named Bob and more hang scattered throughout Matt Chojnacki’s classroom.

The illustrations are a source of inspiration for Chojnacki. He hangs each drawing in his classroom.

“I think this student spent his or her own time to do something for me that is unique and original,” Chojnacki said. “ … The art is usually something I’m interested in whether it be Star Wars or basketball or whatever and I think that it is such a kind gesture to make art for me.”

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Chojnacki said he strives to do something in return for his students, hopefully, by giving them opportunities to be more creative, have fun and make fond memories in his classroom.

Chojnacki, a fourth-grade teacher at Shearer Elementary School, grew up in northeast Ohio. He attended the University of Akron for his undergraduate degree in early childhood education. During his undergrad years, Chojnacki completed his student-teaching hours in Australia where he taught kindergarten.

He later moved to Lexington with his now-wife, to whom he proposed on New Year’s Eve in Time Square on TV nearly 10 years ago, and has taught in the region for about eight years. During that time, Chojnacki also completed his master’s in educational leadership from the University of Kentucky.

This year is Chojnacki first at Shearer.

“I do love it,” Chojnacki said. “I feel like I have the freedom to teach creatively, and the school culture is one that lends yourself well to that type of teaching.”

He has previously taught in Fayette County and also spent a year as an assistant principal at Cane Ridge Elementary School before realizing he missed the classroom.

Throughout his career, Chojnacki said he has learned how different schools are from one another.

“I’ve been in some schools where I’m scared to be creative and scared to be myself,” he said. “And I’ve been in schools like Shearer where I feel comfortable … I think that really, the culture is so important … And Shearer is a place I love and where I want to be.”

Chojnacki said he always wanted to do something creative as a career. He enjoyed drawing and writing, but also wanted to do something with people. Chojnacki said he credits his father for teaching him to draw and for pushing him to embrace his creativity at an early age.

“I didn’t know what I was doing my first year of school,” he said. “ … I was just kind of lost my first year of college. Then, I took an early childhood psychology class, and I thought this was cool.”

Chojnacki said his professors talked about the different careers that involve early childhood psychology and there was one that stuck: teaching.

Chojnacki said he decided to pursue early childhood education because of their energy and enthusiasm, to which he relates.

“They are a lot more energetic and passionate about learning, and that’s who I am as well,” he said.

Now, Chojnacki tries to incorporate creativity into his classroom whenever he can. Rather than hand out work sheets for students to follow, he asks them to take charge of their learning.

This week, the class is studying dramas, so Chojnacki asked them to write scenes that incorporate all of the drama elements they had previously learned.

“I look at what the standards say first, and then how they can be creative within them,” Chojnacki said.

Chojnacki said he especially loves to teach writing because of its versatility. There are many styles and many ways to incorporate it into other subjects.

“Everyone can do it,” he said. “No matter how strong or weak of a writer you are, you are still writing. The only wrong way to write is to do nothing at all.”

Though, differentiation can be difficult.

“Trying to challenge the highest learner and the one that needs the most attention and struggling, and teaching a classroom full of people in between … I do have to make modifications before, during and after depending on the student and the class,” Chojnacki said.

But at the end of the day, beyond the critical knowledge they gain and take with them as they grow, Chojnacki said his only hope is his students look back at their time with him fondly.

“When I think back about my elementary school days, I only have a couple of memories,” he said. “Those memories were always of something unique and fun and interesting and meaningful, so I try to fill my day with things that are meaningful and fun and heartfelt.”

Chojnacki said he certainly has fond memories of his students. He recalls a moment when he was eating a spinach salad, and his students were funneling into the classroom, carrying their Styrofoam trays with their slices of school pizza.

One student, in particular, came up to Chojnacki.

“What is that?” the student asked. “Why are you eating leaves?”

“I thought it was so funny,” Chojnacki said. “You forget that students might not have the same life experiences as you.”

Chojnacki said his goal for his second year at Shearer is to continue to be happy and enjoy what he is doing. He said the people at Shearer, his team and the administration, have been supportive in every way.

“I’ve been in a lot of different schools where and I haven’t had that,” he said. “ … I want to focus on the happiness part of it. That’s ultimately why I got into the profession, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.”

Outside of teaching, Chojnacki said he loves to spend time with his wife, who he said keeps him organized and smiling, and two daughters. He is also a soccer coach for 4-year-olds; and he enjoys playing basketball, reading and cooking in his spare time.

As for the future, Chojnacki said he plans to stay happy first and foremost, spending the next few years in the classroom before eventually returning to the administrative side of education.

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email or call 859-759-0015.

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