Words: Xander Mauer
On January 23, 2020, the Maryland Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) recognized three Howard County teachers at an HCPSS Board of Education meeting. Centennial teacher and coach Robert Slopek was among the three, receiving the Health Education Teacher of the Year award.
The award serves to commend a teacher for their pursuit for top-quality health education, focusing on the in-class experience itself as well as the teachers involvement with their school and community outside of the classroom.
Slopek has been a health teacher at Centennial for the past five years, and before that, he taught physical education at Burleigh Manor Middle School for 13 years. Even though he didn’t start out teaching health, he has been passionate about the topic.
“I’ve always wanted to teach health, even when I was in college. I just like the subject and the topics in health— they were fascinating to me,” says Slopek. “I think that because of the impact on students it has when they understand what a healthy person is, mentally and physically, that [health is] the most important subject there is.”
In his relatively short time teaching health, the curriculum has undergone significant change. Slopek finds these changes to be improvements, as it increases the impact the class has on the students.
“We’ve shifted a lot in the last five years that I’ve been here… rather than memorizing facts, taking a test, forgetting the facts, and then learning new facts to forget, we now are putting everything into life skills and more skill-based lessons,” he explains. “We’ve gone a lot more into the health skills, like understanding what life skills are needed to be healthy, where the skills that we use in our classroom can go across all curriculars, and [students] are able to use these skills for more than just looking up health information— they’re skills that can be used everyday in various topics and situations.”
While Slopek finds the subject intriguing, he teaches the class for the students. Through his work, he is able to impact the students, the driving force behind his pride in the subject.
“I like to focus on creating a much more laid-back, relaxed atmosphere so that students feel comfortable and confident to ask questions without being criticized,” reflects Slopek. “I think that goes a long way, building a relationship with students. So, something that I really focus on is trying to get to know our students well outside of the classroom… not just what they do on an assignment, but understanding who they are as a person.”
With the passion Slopek has for all aspects of his job and his ability to connect with his students to help them to be the best person they can, it’s no wonder that he has been so successful in this field of work.
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