SB County Teacher of the Year talks about approach to education
Frank Koroshec never wanted to be a teacher.
“I always thought that being a teacher seemed like a horrible career,” he said. “But it turns out the thing that I feared the most ended up being the best decision of my life.”
After graduating early from Westmont College in 1997 with a bachelor’s in kinesiology, Mr. Koroshec spent roughly six years on the road traveling with his indie rock band. While touring as a musician, Mr. Koroshec started substitute teaching to help make up for the income he wasn’t getting as an artist.
During his time as a substitute teacher, Mr. Koroshec fell in love with the profession and began teaching full time after receiving his master of arts in English in 2004 at Cal State Northridge.
Sixteen years later, the San Marcos High School English teacher was awarded the 2021 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year.
Mr. Koroshec has taught in the Santa Barbara Unified School district since 2012. He currently serves as the chair of the English Department at San Marcos as well as on the school’s leadership team and the district’s Secondary English Language Arts Team.
Being named Teacher of the Year was not an easy feat.
After applicants complete an extensive application and submit letters of recommendation, they are reviewed by a diverse panel that includes last year’s Teacher of the Year. Following its review, the panel selects four to six finalists.
From there, the finalists are normally interviewed and observed in their classrooms. However, the process was modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so interviews and presentations were done over Zoom video conferencing.
“Stepping into Frank Koroshec’s classroom is like entering a sacred space. Every moment is thoughtfully constructed and beautifully delivered,” Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Cary Matsuoka said in his letter of recommendation. “You can feel the depth of relationship that Frank has with each student and with his entire class. The intellectual rigor is high, and the level of engagement on the part of students is real and genuine.”
Mr. Koroshec told the News-Press the slogan he uses in his class is, “We read, to write, to live” and tries to focus his class curriculum on teaching students valuable life lessons while they learn English.
“What good is any of that if we don’t get out there and live,” Mr. Koroshec said. “What I think is so meaningful for me is teaching students how to have a conversation and then finding ways to work on that outside the classroom.”
During his class, Mr. Koroshec encourages students to engage in challenging conversations and stresses the importance of listening to others and learning from them before they form their opinion on a subject.
“My job is not to tell them what to think. My job is to facilitate the conversations that allow them to think,” Mr. Koroshec said. “We won’t solve everything, but it’s a practice that we need to get better at.”
Mr. Koroshec said that during his class, he tries to convey the idea that an “argument is about joining and promoting the conversation so that we can progress.” He also stresses the importance of, “teaching students how to use argument to further the discourse, rather than just shut down the conversation.”
In addition to his work as a teacher, Mr. Koroshec and his wife are a licensed foster family and have three adopted children of their own. As a foster parent, Mr. Koroshec said his proudest moment was when he and a group of his students founded the Resource Family Association Student Support Team in 2015.
According to the organization’s website, “Initially, RFASST’s focus was to support the local Resource Family Association (RFA) and Foster Kinship Continuing Education (FKCE) by providing childcare at monthly Parents in Progress (PiP) trainings. The following year, after receiving a $10,000 grant from local nonprofit Kids Helping Kids (KHK), RFASST expanded its programming, enabling the organization to provide more support to resource families throughout Santa Barbara County.”
Mr. Koroshec said starting the organization with his students was a real game changer because he loved the idea that he could, “teach through community building” and “that’s when you are not teaching composition, you’re teaching life.”
RFASST currently has more than 100 students sign up to participate each year. On top of providing childcare at monthly Parents in Progress meetings, the organization provides resource families with other programs aimed at promoting a sense of community, such as a speaker series, Meet Ups and Parents Night Out.
Due to its success, RFASST just recently introduced a sister chapter at Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria. Mr. Koroshec said he hopes the organization continues with its momentum and expands all across the state.
“The biggest thing that’s gonna cause change is getting amongst the people themselves,” Mr. Koroshec said. “It changes your heart.”
Besides starting RFASST, Mr. Koroshec created the San Marcos High School Writing Center, which offers students assistance in composition. In 2015, he also launched an online literary platform known as The Conversation and in 2016 he organized an annual writing contest and poetry slam for students.
Mr. Koroshec discussed one of the important lessons he learned about teaching.
He said he discovered it’s extremely hard for students to learn if they don’t have their health and well-being in order first. So when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close, he gave out his personal contact information to ensure any students who were struggling could reach him at any time .
“I am always accessible to them, and I want them to know that they are loved,” Mr. Koroshec said.
Despite the obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Koroshec said he found this year to be one of the strongest senses of community that he has ever felt and plans to host an English 111 reunion sometime during the next winter break for his seniors who were unable to have a proper commencement ceremony.
“For those students fortunate enough to have Frank Koroshec, it is more like “teacher of a lifetime” as compared to another year in school,” Superintendent Matsuoka said in his letter of recommendation.