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Tanka’s teaching style benefits students

By Erika Knutson

Kirk Tanka’s Honors Chemistry class teaches more than ionic compounds and molar masses; according to his students, they learn valuable lessons like how to take control of their learning and self-motivation.

You need to be responsible for your own learning,” said Joslyn Haldeman, “and that’s something he promotes in his class. ”

Tanka has been a teacher at Batavia High School for 12 years. He teaches Honors Chemistry, Chemistry, AP Chemistry and Behind the Wheel Driver Education.

Past and present students said Tanka isn’t the “lecture all day everyday” kind of teacher that comes around so often throughout one’s educational career. Though lecturing does happen, students learn loads of information in his class through doing and not being talked at. Every day Tanka starts classes off with time for questions, whether it be on worksheets or the newest Star Wars movie, although his classes never stay off topic for long.

Students must be invested in their own learning,” says Tanka, “and that does come from them asking questions and seeking out answers to satisfy their inquisitive nature.”

Some past students claimed, learning how to be invested in your own learning and being able to take control is an important skill that students learn early in Tanka’s class.

Students claim Tanka allegedly has a very hands on approach of ‘try it, ask questions, and we’ll do this together’. As stated by his students, there is no better way of learning than struggling and succeeding because all the ways that don’t work lead to the ways that do.

“I remember an activity he had us do,” said Charlie Voirin. “We had to go up and say this is the answer, and if you weren’t confident he’d tell you it’s wrong and to try again.”

Tanka’s students know he isn’t out to see you crash and burn because that’s not his style.

My teaching style gives students the opportunity to try and fail, while knowing that they still have a teacher that cares about them and wants to see them succeed,” Tanka said. “It gives them more ownership and allows them to find out more about themselves and their tendencies [in learning] for when they may go onto college.  Learning ultimately is something a student chooses to do or not do.  When students feel a desire to learn, they are more invested in their learning and will do more than if I just tell them what to do.”

Students find the way he teaches is so unique and helpful. They say he pushes them to learn for themselves. He also really involves the students in their own learning rather than just talking at them and hoping they absorb the information.

“I wasn’t afraid to fail,” Mikkel Knutson said, “because, I learned in Tanka’s class failure is the easiest way to learn.”

Students don’t see failing as a bad thing. It’s a part of life that needs to be accepted. In Tanka’s class getting problems wrong was a normal part of the day, as well as persevering and learning from mistakes.

In order to try and fail students need to gather experience. One instance of this was from a lesson he taught last semester, “I need six volunteers.” The students are chosen, three girls and three boys, and are told to leave the room. When they reenter there are three chairs set up in the front of the class. Tanka tells each of the girls to take a seat one at a time, then moves on to the guys to have a seat also which causes chair sharing, but only after all the chairs have already been taken up. This was the lesson of Electronic Configuration taught by Tanka himself as to how the rows fill up. Tanka’s class is “doing” and this is a perfect example of it.

Students believe that Tanka’s class is an all-around good experience; because, he pushes students to do their best at all times, and that leaves a lasting impression on them. His past students that are now in college to this day still email him about how his class helped them.

The most common thing is that they are positive,” Tanka said. “They range from thanking me for teaching the way I do and preparing them for college. They thank me for teaching them chemistry and the Matrix and how it helps in Chemistry in college.  They thank me for treating them like young adults and still being there when they need help.  I honestly feel that students want a challenging course and material that they know the teacher is there to help them along the way when they really need it. Students like a challenge and just want to know that the teacher does care about them and will be there to help them get back on their feet if needed, but they do not want a teacher to do the work for them.”

According to his students, Tanka is a supportive teacher who always puts students learning ahead of anything else. He obviously doesn’t baby students and take them by the hand like they do in Middle School in order to teach them. Tanka doesn’t treat students like kids but expect them to act like young adults, he treats students as young adults.

I think that it would be easy to mistake his methods for treating us as children,” Voirin said. “Whether it be the way he answered some of our questions with the classic ‘it’s an answer yes, but not the right one.’ But if you look at it, he really treats us like adults. He gives us the freedom to choose what we wanted to do and even if we wanted to do it at all, and he would never talk down to us or anything of that nature.”

Additionally, his students boast that Tanka honestly has the students and their learning in mind at all times. He wants his students to succeed but in order for them to succeed the students have to want it.

“Everybody who has had Tanka ends up loving him one way or another,” Voirin said. “And if that isn’t a testament to him, his teaching, and his class then I don’t know what is.”

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