By Esther Kardos
Mr. Struzinski - or Struz, as many students have come to know him -- has earned acclaim for his role as an American history teacher, DBQ devotee, and proud ficus owner. In this issue’s Teacher Feature, we dive into all of the above and then some through this exclusive interview.
QUESTION: I’ll start with some basics: did you actually major only in history, or in political science as well?
ANSWER: No, only history. Some schools have specializations, though mine did not. It was just a Bachelor’s in history, but I did specialize in American history on my own later on.
QUESTION: And how far into that process did you realize you wanted to actually teach American history?
ANSWER: I came to the realization when I was a junior in high school that teaching might be something I would want to do. I had a couple of jobs outside of school, and while they were all fine high school jobs, it taught me very quickly that I did not want to work in certain fields and that I couldn’t see myself doing that every day. And then whenever I came back to thinking about this, I realized that I enjoyed coming to school and everything about school. So I thought, “Well, I’m already doing this every day, and this isn’t so bad, so why not just continue doing this every day?”
QUESTION: So, your objective was to become a professional nerd?
ANSWER: In part. But I was also involved in music. So from very early on I was on stage all the time, and teaching encompasses that. That is, you’re in front of people all day long, and you aren’t sitting in a cubicle. And both of those things were appealing to the point where I could see myself doing it and that I thought I would enjoy it. Then, when I was a senior in high school, I thought, “Well, if I’m going to teach, I want to teach music.” But then I came to the reality that I would never get a job, because I’m not a good enough musician. Many of my friends are musicians, and I knew they were all going to be music teachers, and I would never get picked over them. I tried to decide what else I wanted to teach, and I realized I loved my history classes. They were the best, and my history teachers were the best. And then I started having peers who I didn’t know - this girl, for example, in my English class during a very strange presentation - who would come up to me in the hallway afterwards, never having said a word to me beforehand, and say, “That was great, you should become a teacher.” And I would say, “Well, funny thing, that’s kind of what I’m going to be.”
QUESTION: Now that you’ve delved into the teaching realm and have been doing it for quite some time, what would you say is the best part about it? Is it just that realization that you’re getting through to people, or is it something separate from that?
ANSWER: The best thing is getting to deal with young people. I like people who are curious and show interest in the things around them. It’s great seeing people awakened into the things they want to do with their lives and to be a part of that is great. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. I can’t do this in any other job, unless I were an actor, but I can’t bother memorizing lines. This is combining having a great time every day with also doing things that a lot of other people wish they could do in their job.
QUESTION: Though, if you were in any other profession, would it still be a teaching thing and simply a different type of teaching, or would it be something else completely?
ANSWER: That’s a great question, and quite frankly, I have no idea. If you ask me what I wanted, I wanted to be a chef. I loved that, but again, the practical side of me comes out. Just the hours of being a chef was very no, and I think what I liked about cooking was never quite the reality of what chefs do. Whereas, that’s not the case with teaching.
QUESTION: What’s the story behind the ficus?
ANSWER: When I arrived in this school, I was told this would be my room. So I walked into this room, and there was this fake tree in the corner. And it had Christmas lights on it. Now, if I have this correct, it was simply there and it took on a life of its own. People were compelled to decorate it and then, one year, I had a student who decided to create a Facebook page for the ficus. And all these kids were talking to me, “Did you know that your ficus has a Facebook page?” And I said, “What’s a ficus?” And apparently that was the tree, so I then said, “No, I don’t have Facebook.” So I ended up looking at it on my wife’s page years later and just the humor that was on it, it was amazing. I have the dorkiest students. But anyway, that summer, the ficus was taken from my room. I don’t think in a malicious way, I just think that it happened as they cleaned up and it never showed up again. So, I kept putting students on these missions to find it, and there would be these trees brought to me like, “Here it is!” And I’d tell them, “No, that’s not it.” So that became part of the narrative of the Facebook page, the absence and the loneliness of where the ficus went. Then, that particular year, my students became completely desperate to have the ficus back, so they purchased a tree online. It cost them like fifty bucks, and they all chipped in to buy it, and now their names are written on the trunk of the ficus. So then a couple years later, a few of my students did the same thing and got a second one, and my grand master plan is to have this place covered in trees. Except, as it turns out, it costs a lot of money to buy fake trees. So, that is the story of the ficus.
QUESTION: Fantastic. In addition to traditional questions, I’ve designed something called a “Quick Round” to really get the students to know you. These are questions not to be thought about; you just say one or the other and go for it. You ready?
ANSWER: I’m terrible at these, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Halloween night or Christmas morning?
ANSWER: Christmas morning.
QUESTION: Blankets just out of the dryer or cookies just out of the oven?
ANSWER: Blankets out of the dryer. I like cookies after they’ve cooled down a day later.
QUESTION: Moon or stars?
ANSWER: Moon, because my daughter loves the moon.
QUESTION: Bookstore or library?
ANSWER: Oh god, I love them both. A library, I guess.
QUESTION: Sophomores or seniors?
ANSWER: Haha, both.
QUESTION: 1770s or 1970s?
ANSWER: 1770s, because the 1970s are completely depressing.
QUESTION: Bitter cold or blistering heat?
ANSWER: Bitter cold.
QUESTION: Godfather I, II, or III?
ANSWER: Two is the best one, right? I don’t know, I’ve only ever watched one all the way through.
QUESTION: Wu-Tang Clan or NWA?
ANSWER: Wu-Tang Clan.
QUESTION: Hot tea or hot coffee?
ANSWER: Hot coffee.
QUESTION: Last and most difficult: Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson?
ANSWER: Oh my god. I thought this was going to be easier. I can’t believe this. Like, what are we even talking about? (Long pause) Fine, Thomas Jefferson.