Wszolek shares his love of learning
English teacher James Wszolek has had a prolific 21 years working at LPHS. The 1999-2000 school year was his first, where he worked in special education. From the 2000-2001 school year on, he became an integral part of the English department and eventually a co-chair of it.
In 1988, Wszolek graduated from Wabash College with his bachelor’s degree. He started working in a psychiatric hospital after that, but learned early on that psychology didn’t suit him. He wasn’t interested in being a doctor or a therapist, so he went on to Indiana University Northwest to get his teaching license. When a job opened up in La Porte, he took it.
In relation to becoming a teacher, Wszolek said that as a child, he always just enjoyed school. He viewed it as a learning adventure.
“If I wasn’t afraid of getting into trouble, I probably would’ve spent a whole day in the library just reading,” Wszolek said.
He’s also always loved working with children and adolescents. For a child development class in college, he spent a few months working at a daycare center and described it as one of the best times he ever had. It inspired him to start teaching, all in the name of making the world better one child at a time.
Early on in his career at LPHS, Wszolek took over directing the fall play, which was at the time an extra role that certain English teachers took on. Over time, he started doing the winter and spring plays as well in absence of anybody else volunteering to direct them. He didn’t want to give it up, but he ended up becoming the head speech coach. It was a demanding position that required his full attention. He was concerned that if he didn’t help with speech it would take the course option away from students. Speech is a class that teaches principles Wszolek values greatly.
“The whole idea of standing up in front of a group of people and giving a presentation or even being able to sit down at a job interview and present yourself well orally are all teachable skills. It’s hard to pack those into just an English class,” Wszolek said.
Wszolek has loved teaching English classes– AP Literature and Composition and AP Seminar in particular. He likes the challenge of teaching more academically rigorous courses as opposed to regular English classes. He finds that AP students are usually a bit more interested in learning and pushing themselves further in their academic pursuits.
“They [AP students] keep me on my toes, and I have to keep finding ways to challenge them. I think as an educator that it keeps me motivated,” Wszolek said.
Wszolek loves the way that younger generations shape words into new meanings and make them their own. He thinks that to a great degree, teaching allows him to stay younger at heart.
“Every four years, a class leaves, and a new class shows up. You kind of keep up with what’s going on in the world that way,” Wszolek said.
Of course, being an English teacher means plenty of reading, a task that Wszolek finds no disdain in. During the school year, he normally just reads and re-reads the books that he assigns to his students, but in whatever spare time he has, Wszolek loves his personal reading.
“I have a shelf at home where I just start stacking books starting in August, and then I can’t wait until May or June to start working on it. There is no such thing as a person who hates reading. All there are are people who have not yet found the right book,” Wszolek said.
Right now, he’s working his way through dystopian fantasy novel Children of Blood and Bones by Tomi Adeyemi. It’s one of the newer books that the English department received in the spring. He finds it interesting because the settings of dystopian novels rarely take place in Africa.
Wszolek has quite a few recommendations for those who want to jump into a good book. He enjoys author John Irving’s early works including The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and The Cider House Rules. One of his favorite parts of Irving’s writing style is how he develops his characters and plays with the line of narrative.
“I think those are some of the best novels I’ve ever read as far as connecting to humanity goes,” Wszolek said.
The Myron Bolitar mystery series by Harlan Coben are some other books that Wszolek spoke very highly of. He borrowed them from a fellow teacher and couldn’t get enough of their plot and characters.
“They were the most entertaining enjoyable reads. The characters were crazy and engaging. I don’t know anybody who can get through the first book and not say ‘I’m hooked,’” Wszolek said.
Wszolek is such an important part of LPHS and its English department, and his dedication to it shines through in his teaching.