Editor's Note: This is the third of three stories, which highlight the five teachers of the year for the Grove Public School System.
Superheroes is how Amanda Pollan and Matt Fracek describe the educators who made a difference in their lives and inspired them to become teachers.
Both found encouragement to pursue an educational career at an early age. Both use it to inspire students to greater things.
It's part of the reason both were named district teachers of the year for the mid-school and high school, respectively.
Grove Middle School - Amanda Pollan
Amanda Pollan teaches seventh and eighth grade drama and communications at Grove Middle School, as well as eighth grade English and pre AP language arts.
A teacher for 21 years, she has worked at the middle school for the past 14 years.
A native of Claremore, Pollan graduated from Claremore Sequoyah High School in 1993. She completed undergraduate work at Northeastern State University, and is working on a master's in leadership studies from the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University.
Pollan and her husband, Brian, have two children, Brant, 13, and Kolt, 5.
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Pollan became a teacher partly because of the "long list of educators" within her family.
"I looked at each of them as if they were superheroes," Pollan said. "When I was 4-years-old, my mom bought me a school desk, flip chalkboard, colored pens, workbooks and as assortment of office supplies that I would use to become a teacher in my bedroom.
"I was an only child, and I had an imaginary friend, Bitsy. I would pretend she was my student. I grew out of having adventures with Bitsy, but I never grew out of my love of becoming a teacher."
Pollan said the late Coach Burl Moore, as well as Don Raleigh, current superintendent of Pryor Public Schools, gave her the influence needed to "push myself no matter what the conditions."
"It was always a new day, a new beginning, rain or shine, no matter the circumstances," Pollan said. "We were to push to the limits academically and physically.
"Looking back, I realize that it was the principals taught by these two men, that gave me the self-discipline and motivation to achieve my goals."
Pollan said she stays in the teaching profession because she loves working with students and showing them how learning can be hard, yet enjoyable at the same time.
"I have fun!," Pollan said. "Having fun, smiling and laughing while making learning fun with engaging and challenging tasks, who wouldn't stay a teacher. We [students and teachers] laugh. We learn together."
Pollan said she strives to make a difference in the lives of the students within her sphere of influence.
"It's not the paycheck, recognition or even the working conditions or resources," Pollan said. "It's about the students and their welfare, teaching them as they become adults to have good character and high standards."
Pollan jokes one of her favorite memories as a teacher involves a speaking assignment she gave, which required students to talk for up to three minutes on something no one knew about them.
"This particular student would eat three cans of green beans per day," Pollan said. "When he started his speech, I though it was odd, but I was letting him roll with his green bean speech. He went on to tell about why he consumed the green beans along with the benefits of green beans.
"One day, that same student, now 26-years-old, stopped me while I was visiting a friend in the hospital. He said 'Mrs. P, do you remember the green bean speech. I won't ever forget how people stood and clapped.'"
The young man went on to tell Pollan that whenever he had to give a speech in college, he pictured himself "sitting down at the table with you, and everyone together and giving that speech.
He told Pollan that whenever he is nervous, he pictures that moment and "everything seems ok."
Pollan said her mission in life is to show her students that being in front of others is not a fatal event.
"I love dram and language arts because it lets students shine," Pollan said. "Everyone has a talent, it's that something no one else can do. It's that 'uniqueness' and 'individuality' that I strive to bring out in my class."
Pollan said she loves working with her fellow middle school teachers.
"I will not forget what Mr. Clouse [my first principal] in Grove said," Pollan recalled. "'I don't know what you're doing in here - speaking of my classroom activity - and I will not ask any other questions every again because I know whatever comes out of here will be good. Looks like chaos to me, I am looking the other way.'
"It was always understood that 'Pollan' was the 'different' one in the building, and everyone would go on with their own thing and never ask. I love that my coworkers understand and accept me no matter how 'different' I may be with teaching."
Pollan said she learned numerous lessons this spring with the walkout, including how social media can be credited for both negative and positive communication throughout the event.
Ultimately, Pollan said, she hopes her students remember shat she was a teacher who always took time to say hello, or to ask them about themselves.
"It may not seem like much, but personally, it's not all about the hallway decor, the lessons in class or tests," Pollan said. "It's about having a relationship with students. I want them all to remember I care about them both in, and out of school."
Pollan said it's an honor to be selected as the middle school teacher of the year.
"I admire all of my coworkers and I am truly humbled they think enough of me to be teacher of the year," Pollan said. "I am proud to be a teacher to some of the best students in the world. I can't say enough to express my appreciation to our gracious and loving community.
"Community efforts from time to time donated to our schools don't go unnoticed. As far as I am concerned, Grove Public Schools is the best school district in Oklahoma."
Grove High School - Matt Fracek
A 2000 graduate of Grove High School, Matt Fracek has taught his entire career - six years - within the Grove School system.
He teaches AP government and politics, american history, modern history and ACT Prep, at Grove High School.
While he finished his education career at Grove, Fracek, the son of George Fracek and the late Linda Fracek - who was a fellow GHS educator, said he will always claim his birthplace, Chicago, Illinois and his beloved Cubs.
Fracek did his undergraduate work at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and is working on his masters in educational leadership from Southern Nazarene University.
"My teaching career would not have been possible without my mom, Linda, and my dad, George," Fracek said. "Being able to see my mother's passion for teaching and how good she felt about it, and talking to my dad about what it takes to be successful and happy led me down this path that can be very challenging at times.
"My sister Liz also sought a career in education, she now teaches at the collegiate level. Of course, all of it is now made possible by my amazing wife, Hailey, who makes me better in every single way, and who is very understanding about the hours a teacher keeps."
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Fracek said his family played an integral role in his decision to become a teacher.
"It is tough to figure out what you are supposed to do, and luckily they helped me to see that my calling is education," Fracek said, adding that teaching is more about moving toward slowly and unflinchingly.
"There have been moments of epiphanic breakthrough that I have been a part of, but it is really more about getting up, making sure that you have something prepared for each class, going to work, leading at least six - hour long meetings with 20 to 35 students, taking care of the grading and feedback, [and] making sure you have something planned for the next day," Fracek said, adding this is on top of any homework he has for continuing education.
The best part of teaching, he said, is when students realize they are capable of more than they ever thought.
"There is a part in The Magnificent Seven where some of the villager's children say that they wish their fathers were more like the seven," Fracek said. "They felt that their fathers were cowards for being farmers.
"Charlie Bronson quickly set these youngsters straight. He told them that real courage is finding the strength to push through what can often be challenging and uncertain work... every...single...day. It is that sentiment from which that I think all teachers can gather strength."
Fracek said he loves teaching history and the role and function of the government to his students.
"The confidence you see in student's eyes when they realize that they are among the few Americans that can tell you how many members of Congress there are and why is dazzling," Fracek said. "It is important for the future citizens of this nation to understand how our government works and how we got where we are today."
The walkout, Fracek said, taught him about how his fellow teachers showed solidarity, even if they did not agree on every part of the issues.
"Even teachers who did not agree with it tried to understand the different positions and what was going on legislatively," Fracek said. "Our profession is a caring one, and our teachers are strong.
"I am excited about the increased vigilance of my colleagues moving forward as we hope that those that represent us strive to make education as big a priority as it should be."
Fracek said he hopes his students will leave his classroom, knowing how much he respects hard work.
"I think a lot of what students see is the end result and not much of the preparation," Fracek said. "No one really watches football practice, it is mostly about the game. I hope that they remember that working hard really is the key to everything [as well as] not giving up."
This is the second time Fracek has been nominated as the high school teacher of the year.
"Being nominated [a second time] makes it that much more of an honor," Fracek said. "There are so many teachers that I draw strength from in my day-to-day life that it should really be all of them getting an award. But receiving this honor makes me want to find a way to work even harder to pull my weight with an amazing team."
Fracek said he hopes his students, as well as their parents, know teachers work hard every day - even during the summer - to provide their students with the best education possible.
He said the support received from the Grove community, including that from GEFFE, Grove Rotary, and others, are another reason being a teacher in Grove is special.
"[They] are a big part of what makes this school system such a great place to work and learn," Fracek said.