Henrico’s Top Teachers – James Milcarek

Looking back, James Milcarek will tell you that the seeds of his teaching career were planted when he was a fifth-grader in a suburban Pittsburgh, Pa. school – and his world seemed to be falling apart.

"My parents were divorcing.  It was ugly.  My grades were up and down," Milcarek recalled.

But two special teachers made school a haven for him.

Ron Broglie taught him a passion for learning, which developed into the passion for teaching that Milcarek carries to this day.

"[Broglie] would wow us by mixing chemical compounds to create what seemed to be magic," Milcarek says.  "I remember hornet’s nests and praying mantis egg hatchings, and a cool little chemical compound he called 'chicken blood.'  We went outside, we studied nature.  He was amazing."

Another teacher, Paula Pavelka, offered him comforting gestures, kind smiles and pats on the back, just when he seemed to need it most.

"[Pavelka] knew that there was something wrong in my world," Milcarek said, "but she never pried." 

Keeping her example in mind, and knowing that his own classroom is filled with students like himself at that age, helps Milcarek keep his perspective. No matter how tough a day he might be having as a teacher, he strives to make a personal connection with each student, every day.

"I do my very best to greet, question, or say goodbye to every one of my students by name," he says, "[and] to make sure that every child is made to feel that the day would not have been the same if they had not been there.  I want to high five them as they walk out of the school and I want to let them know that I am truly excited to be here with them."

If you ask Pocahontas parents and teachers, Milcarek clearly is succeeding.

"Mr. Milcarek has had an enormous impact on my son," wrote a parent. "His class is the focus of our dinner conversations, car conversations, walk conversations and bedtime conversations. He has instilled in my son a genuine love of history and a desire to learn more."

A fellow teacher with many years of experience called Milcarek "far and away the most engaging, effective teacher I have come across either personally or professionally. . . [He] is a very rare gem: a teacher who loves his subject; a teacher who shares that love with his students; and a teacher who has the gift of ingenious and creative presentation.

"I cannot think of a teacher who could top him."

According to Milcarek, the admiration goes both ways, and he is merely doing what he is meant to do.

"I have the coolest job," he said. "I am thrilled to be where I am, working with the amazing students, staff and administration that I have here at Pocahontas."

Asked about the rewards of being a teacher, he replied, "When do I not have a rewarding moment? There are few times where I don’t feel inspired by these kids."

He mentioned students he had as a first-year teacher (1995 in Powhatan) who still keep in touch with him on Facebook. He told of former students who have come back to the classroom as teachers – and cite him as their inspiration. "That is super cool," he said. 

And just as he has consoled students over the break-ups of parents and boyfriends, Milcarek said, his students and school community came out by the hundreds to support and comfort him in his darkest hour – when he lost his infant son 10 years ago.

While Milcarek conceded that as an educator he will never be rich in terms of bank account, he said he feels rich nevertheless.

"I have seen it.  I have done it.  I have worked in the city, the country and with every type of child in between," he said.  "I have seen homeless students overcome poverty to pull themselves to the top of my class.  I have learned that I can learn anything from any of them.

"I draw energy off my kids; my kids are my world," he summed up. "I am, quite simply, in heaven."
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Henrico Business Bulletin Board

September 2017

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Innsbrook After Hours continues its 32nd year with Cole Swindell and special guest Morgan Evans. ACM’s reigning New Artist of The Year Swindell’s brand new single is “You Should Be Here” – the debut track from his forthcoming album due out this year. Gates open at 5 p.m. Show begins at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Net proceeds from the concert series benefit the American Constitution Spirit Foundation and the Innsbrook Foundation. Rain or shine. For tickets and more information, call the IAH Hotline at 423-1779 or visit http://www.innsbrookafterhours.com. Full text

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Henrico's Top Teachers

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