Most students will come home and talk about their “favorite” teachers – those who encourage, build up the students and empower them, who make them laugh and feel like they can do anything if they work at it.
Joe Ichniowski is one of those teachers. Kids seem to enjoy being in his U.S. history, Oklahoma history, and U.S. government classes at Tahlequah High School.
Coach “Ich” [sounds like ick], as students call him, explains what he enjoys the most: “The relationships I build with students and families are by far the best part about my job.”
He is a boys’ coach for soccer, and last Friday night, Ichniowski was in the stands, cheering for the girls’ team before warming up the boys for their game.
“Teaching can be very stressful at times, but knowing I could be making a difference in at least one student’s life makes it worth it,” Ichniowski said. “I love not knowing what each day will bring, and that is definitely the case here in Tahlequah. Each day is its own challenge, and that keeps things interesting.”
This is his fourth year teaching, all in Tahlequah. His first year was in 2011-2012 at Tahlequah Middle School, and the past three years have been at the high school.
To make the decision to teach is a commitment to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of students over a lifetime. It was encouragement from teachers and coaches that played a large part in Ichniowski’s decision to become a teacher.
“Initially, it was the advice of teachers and coaches of mine in high school that started me down the path. The longer I pursued it, the more I realized the impact my teachers had in my life, and that really convinced me I was heading in the right direction,” he said.
Two mentors, both English teachers, had huge impacts on not just his decision to teach, but his life.
“I had two that immediately come to mind. The first was my eighth-grade English teacher Todd Groothuis. He was a great English teacher, but the biggest impact he had on me was convincing me to play football when I got to high school. Because of that decision, I was surrounded by the men and influences that helped shape me into who I am today,” Ichniowski said.
The other English teacher was Kelly Irish.
“Mrs. Irish was the one who put the idea of becoming a teacher in my head. She told my parents I should become a teacher my sophomore year, and when the time came, that advice got me going in the right direction,” he said.
A graduate of Hudsonville High School in western Michigan in 2005, he earned a degree in Social Studies Education from Northeastern State University.
Ichniowski advises new teachers not to give up after their first year, and to value the little things that matter over the negative.
“Don’t be scared off after your first year. It takes time to realize the kind of impact you are having on your students,” he said. “Also, you have to enjoy the little things when they happen. Too often we get so caught up in all the negatives, all the big issues, that we fail to notice the little things that make this job worth it. Make sure you enjoy those, appreciate them, because when things get tough, that’s what will get you through.”
And knowing how vital parents are for the success of students, Ichniowski offers these suggestions he learned from his own parents.
“Be involved in your child’s education. Looking back, I was very lucky to have two loving parents who were always there to support me. They never failed to tell me how proud they were of my accomplishments and encourage me when I hit tough times,” he said. “Their involvement was big reason I ended up going to college and finding a career I love.”
When the school year ends and summer break begins, coach Ich enjoys the outdoors and time with his family.
“During the summer, I love cruising around in my Jeep, spending time with my family, and being outside as much as possible,” he said.
One aspect of his life that many people don’t know is that he spent a year in Northern Ireland, working in schools and churches with students after his first year in college.
“It was a fantastic experience that I would not trade for anything,” he said.