When an uninspired or uninterested student walks into Nate Knauss’s technology classroom, he makes it a mission of his to spark the student’s inspiration and creativity, as he does with each and every one of his students.
“(I’m) making it relevant to their world and life,” Knauss explained. “It’s the purpose of what we’re doing here and what I’m doing. The ‘ah-ha’ moment.“
Upon his past experience of having students who had reached that moment, Knauss continues to allow for students’ minds to flourish by making projects, assessments and assignments relatable and insert areas of where students can become creative.
His personal goal received attention from his peers as he was announced to be Cherokee’s Teacher of the Year for the 2020-2021 school year.
The announcement was made during a faculty meeting in which Principal Donna Charlesworth read Knauss’s characteristics, unbeknownst to him. As more elusive hints were dropped, he figured out she was describing him as his loved ones emerged to congratulate him.
The moment was described as “cool” as the 12-year teacher recalled colleagues who have not received the distinction and are deserving of it as much as he.
“There are a lot of teachers here who have been here for so much longer than I have, and there’s people coming here pouring their hearts and souls into the classroom, and making connections to kids the same way I do, and they’re no different from me,” Knauss expressed.
Fellow colleague Maria Rutolo, a special education paraprofessional, was named the Educational Services Professional of the Year. She was described in a press release as being a patient and positive staffer in the department. Her dedication to helping students achieve their goals was highlighted as well as the work she does for the Special Education Transition program, freshmen and new student orientations, and back-to-school nights.
The world and field of technology has called for the user to use it how they see fit and to be a meaningful addition to one’s life, Knauss added. His classroom allows for students to use and manipulate it in such ways to work for them and not vice versa.
Courses in technology education and engineering are riddled with hands-on learning opportunities, which Knauss said he enjoys as he has students test out their proposed solution and see something “mess up, fail, pop a resistor or blow up an LED (light) as long as they are safe and nothing bad happens.”
Immediate feedback on students’ solutions has given them the opportunity to learn what does and does not work, and how to make appropriate changes to receive the reaction they deserve from the devices at hand.
A former member of Rancocas Valley Regional High School’s robotics team during his high school years, the educator brought his love for robotics to Cherokee and oversaw the robotics program and offered assistance when needed.
Other activities Knauss has participated in include long-range planning for Cherokee, assistant for the technology club, mentored teachers and sat on curriculum re-writing teams.
The subject can become boring for some students, so Knauss often creates a stress-free environment for students to engage freely with lessons or assignment.
“I tell a lot of terrible puns and jokes,” he said with a laugh. “It’s very easy to do with electronics and stuff like that. I move around a lot, I’m energetic and I’ll try to make connections with the students as best as possible because I try to appreciate the fact they’re human and they have other things going on.”
Hundreds of students have cycled in and out of Knass’s classroom where they have heard him mention a motto he learned from an Evesham teacher: Solve the problem. Students are provided with enough knowledge to get to where they need on an assignment or project, but he never does the leg work for them.
The educator said he adores receiving word from former students on where engineering and technology took them after graduation. One student, he mentioned, works at Boeing in Delaware County and credited Knauss for being a piece of the puzzle for his lucrative career.
The distinction of “Teacher of the Year” validates the hard work both teachers and students put in the courses, he emphasized. His department also has a light shined on them as others see the opportunities for personal enrichment and career growth offered.
As he remembered his name and portrait will hang on Cherokee’s wall of former teacher of the year recipients, Knauss said his career can be wrapped up by him “never doing the same thing twice.” As technology and the students he teaches change, he will as a result.
“If I don’t, then I’m going to lose some of the good parts of my job,” Knauss said. “I might get bored myself, lose connections with students or my courses end up being less relevant or meaningful.
“I’ve spent my career here staying relevant, being innovative with trends and never settling being the same.“