Q&A: Mr. Szalonek

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Elena Gorney

Q: How long have you been a teacher?

A: I have been a teacher for nine or ten years.  It’s amazing.

Q: Have you taught anywhere besides Lake Central?

A: I taught one year at Kahler Middle School.

Q: Do you enjoy being a teacher?  What are your favorite parts?

A: I really do enjoy being a teacher.  My favorite parts are that we get summers off; I like the kids, the students and what I teach, which are US History and AP US History. I love those subjects.

Q: What are your least favorite parts of being a teacher?

A: Some of the grading of essays takes a long time, but students need to do [essays] because I’m trying to get some of you guys in AP ready for college.  There aren’t too many downsides.  Oh, you don’t make that much money for the time and effort that you put into it, so that would be a downside. The actual pay scale of teachers [is not great], not just in our district, but across America.

Q: Do you enjoy coaching girls tennis?

A: I enjoy tennis quite a bit. I never thought I would be a coach; it wasn’t in my mindset when I started teaching. It was kind of by accident, [I needed] a position. [Mr. Ralph Holden, Social Studies] needed help [coaching] boys’ assistant tennis, and I’d never played tennis before, so I had to learn everything about tennis in a couple weeks. [I have been] the girls’ coach for seven years.

Q: So you never played tennis before you started coaching?

A: No [I did not]. I was a football player, a baseball player and I was in track for a couple years in high school, but I never played tennis.

Q: Did you have any other jobs before you became a teacher?

A: Yes, I had a whole second career for about as long as I have been teaching. I’ve actually had some cool jobs. Out of college I had a speech communications degree. The market, at the time, was not good for the field I wanted to work in originally, which is called public communications.  I ended up in the radio industry for a while. I was the news director as well as an on-air personality in Panama City, Fla., for a year, which was fun. It sounds glamorous, but I made about 11 or 12 dollars per hour. It wasn’t much after getting out of college.

Q: Did you do anything after that?

A: I came back to this area and got a job as an assistant in the promotions department at WGN radio, which is closer to what I wanted to do. That didn’t work out, but it was a cool experience. I met Dick Butkus, Ron Santo and Bob Collins, one of the number-one radio personalities in the country. Then I went from there to the hotel industry. I spent eight years of my life in the hotel industry starting as a bell man, working overnights, then I was the manager of the Albertson Crowne Plaza’s guest service department when I finally left to become a teacher.

Q: Do you have any particularly interesting stories or experiences from these jobs?

A: As the promotions assistant at WGN radio, I did a lot of different duties. One of the duties was to watch the reception area for about an hour for the regular receptionist. I had a woman who came in and wanted to talk to tower security. To be honest I thought she was someone off the streets, because you get homeless that come in. She said she was part of the secret service. I didn’t believe her and asked her to show me identification. In essence I was calling security to get rid of her, and they let me know that, sure enough, they were expecting someone from secret service. [Security] was happy with me, but it was embarrassing because she didn’t fit [what I imagined to be] the stereotypical secret service person; her dress was interesting.