Mr. Michael Kwas, St. Ambrose Academy history teacher and Dean of Academic Success, recently received news that he would be one of 100 Wisconsin teachers awarded the 2023 Herb Kohl Foundation Teacher Fellowship, a much-deserved recognition for an outstanding educator.
With an insatiable curiosity, zest for life, and love of education, Kwas is a natural in the Catholic classical 6-12 classrooms of the Academy where his impact is felt among students and fellow faculty.
Receiving the Fellowship, which comes with a $6,000 personal award for Kwas and a matching $6,000 grant for the Academy, recognizes and reaffirms the talent and dedication Kwas brings to everything he does.
“It’s really humbling, that’s for sure,” Kwas said, “and it prompted me to realize how much I’ve learned from students.”
Each class of students offers a fresh slate. “I love learning too and so it’s actually a blessing to review 43 research papers because… that’s 43 new things I get to learn. Plus, the process itself is so rewarding because, if done right, the students learn quite a bit about themselves as well as their historical subjects. I enjoy going through the process with them and acting as their guide.”
Making the Past Present
“Students improve themselves,” said Kwas; “my role is inspiring them to do so.” He achieves this through hands-on learning and the study of the artifacts, not just texts.
WPA posters, swing jazz, and Dust Bowl migrant interviews may teach some students as much about the Great Depression as a close primary text reading. Listening to original recordings of a field holler, the vocal song of enslaved persons, and sampling Kwas’ home-baked hardtack makes tangible the era of the Civil War (and teaches them a little about food preservation as well)!
Kwas said that students find a fondness for history, with the dramatic moments and stories, likening them to “a great Marvel movie” in their epic scale. He hopes that he can give them a foundation for understanding history as fundamentally being about people, in addition to the analytic side of researching and studying the past.
“Going through the process of the nomination helped me to remember to really clarify why I love history and teaching,” he emphasized, continuing that, “My educational philosophy is rooted in the very Catholic idea of personalism in the vein of Pope Saint John Paul II.”
Forming Well-Rounded Christian Citizens
In one essay submitted to the Foundation on his philosophy of education, he wrote, “The history teacher helps students become better persons through the study of their brothers and sisters of the past revealed in letters, memoirs, and speeches. Historical figures, then, become the “other persons” who help the students become more fully human.”
Kwas in turn helps students get to know these persons, inspire them, and show them how to communicate that knowledge. Through this, his students become good citizens and part of a community by revealing to them the richness of human experience.
He also sees his students as persons, not numbers, and works with them to create goals that express the skills they’d like to develop.
“To be a Christian citizen I think you have to have a deep respect for other people as persons as well as deep respect for humanity. Writing the many essays about big picture topics to be considered for the Fellowship was a wonderful opportunity to get on paper so many practical ways that I teach and the things coming out of those lessons!”
While he cares deeply about bringing history alive in the classroom, Kwas also fosters a sense of belonging and community among his students: “The degree of laughter in the classroom is our barometer to make sure we’re on track.”
He is a lighthearted teacher, sharing Dad jokes, slapstick comedy, and going off on historical tangents. “The students sail the ship” in his classroom; he just keeps it on track, always headed toward intriguing new territory.
Mr. Kwas definitely cares about his students and you can see it in the intensity with which he approaches every class. I’m super appreciative of his willingness to hear out every student and help them see history and life with many perspectives.Mary, Class of 2023