We see time after time how students can blossom and flourish when just one adult in their life shows that they care. Tanja Politiski is that inspiring, caring teacher for so many of her students…like Zane, a homeless student she was determined to help meet his goal of graduating. He was doing well with school, but then his foster mother asked him to leave their home. At age 17, the last thing he wanted to do was go back in the system and enter another foster home. So, he ran.
The pandemic was just starting, and Zane was couch-surfing from one city to the next. Tanja drove three hours to take him a Chromebook one weekend, traveled two hours to give him a hotspot the next weekend. Fortunately, he stayed in touch with school…and Tanja was not about to give up on him. His goal was to graduate before his 18th birthday — and he did it!
Her compassion for and dedication to her students comes from two of her own teachers who had a huge impact on her life.
“I was extremely shy, wouldn’t ever speak up in class. We were studying a Shakespeare play in high school and my teacher encouraged me to read one of the parts. I was terrified, but then everyone said I did a great job. It was such a wonderful feeling.” A similar event in a college literature class, when a teacher had her read part of an essay she wrote, and everyone thought hers was the best. She just needed that push, that encouragement and the positive feedback to give her the confidence she needed to get her degree and pursue her dreams of being a teacher. And that’s just what Tanja does every day to inspire her students.
Tanja knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher. Her favorite game with neighborhood kids was playing school, especially when she got to be the teacher. She loved school and her passion was reading.” I lied to my parents about going to sleep and instead read with a flashlight under my blanket,” she said. “Since reading was such a huge part of my life, no surprise that I earned my degree in English literature.”
After staying home for several years with her three young sons, she went back to school at night to get her teaching credential. She earned a single-subject credential in English, a multiple-subject credential and a master’s degree in education. “My heart’s desire was to teach high school English. I wanted to have deep conversations with my class and instill my love of reading in my students. But I was scared to teach high school and worried I would not be able to manage the classroom,” she said. So, she taught 4th grade for eight years, and middle school for one year before she joined our team.
“I loved the mission of this school from day one. Every student I have had the privilege of teaching has a story and a struggle. I feel that idea of changing lives and even saving lives every single day. The students affect me and inspire me daily with their grit and resilience,” she said. “My love for and belief in the program changed the direction of my career goals. I went back to school to earn an administrative credential and I’m now helping expand the program and further its reach.”