By Nancy Price
When some students entering fifth grade at Pleasant Grove Elementary School learned a popular teacher who they were supposed to have leading their class transferred to another school, they were devastated.
“My 11-year-old daughter is not a crier, but she cried over this,” said Casey Tedrow of Center Grove. “To compound things, the new teacher couldn’t start for the first few weeks because his former school would not release him. But when Mr. Iszler arrived, it was pretty clear she had never experienced a teacher like him before. As a parent and educator myself, it was clear that she had hit the jackpot in terms of teachers.”
This new teacher, Matthew Iszler is Center Grove ICON’s Educator of the Year.
“I am so lucky,” Iszler said of teaching his new class. “For one, Pleasant Grove had big shoes to fill. I love my previous school! Loved the kids, the families and my coworkers. I didn’t expect that to happen again, let alone this quickly. But it has. Pleasant Grove is fantastic! I do kind of wish I could rename this award Classroom of the Year because without the buy-in and effort of my students then none of this is possible. Their drive, willingness to put in the work, support for each other and energy is the reason we’re had such a great year.”
A CALL TO PUBLIC SERVICE
Iszler, who grew up on the northside of Indianapolis, is the son of a second-generation Lutheran pastor. “While some pastors appeal to emotions, my dad was a master teacher in the pulpit,” he said. “He always tells me that teaching is a ministry and I think for me it absolutely is. It’s funny now that I think about this, there is a picture somewhere in a family photo album that caught me as a young child standing on a stepladder with a book and my hand in the air preaching to my cat Puff. It’s not clear if Puff was inspired or not, but it was pretty clear that I was called to some kind of public service.”
After graduating from Ball State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Iszler began teaching fifth grade at Garfield Elementary in Muncie. He later moved to Greenwood, teaching grades fourth through eighth at IPS.
FOLLOW THE CHILD
“This is my 21st year teaching so I’ve been blessed with a lot of varied experience,” he said. “In the past I knew what I wanted my students to accomplish but it was hard for me to get them there. Today, my teaching feels more like a road map. Not only do I know where I want to take the class, I feel like I know how to get there. It’s a matter of knowing your students and then anticipating their needs. Maria Montessori taught that teachers should ‘Follow the child.’ Well, if you imagine a classroom of around 30 different kids and each with their own diverse needs, then you can begin to appreciate the beautiful complexity of teaching.”
“(Iszler) was able to tell me my daughter learns best with pictures so when she is learning, he makes sure that she and the other students who need pictures get pictures to help them learn,” said Alix Walker of Center Grove. “Each student works at their own pace so at the beginning of the next week, my daughter is given work to do that is unique to her and where she is with the curriculum.”
Iszler’s classroom also embraces a concept he refers to as “failing forward.” “It’s expected that we’re going to miss a problem, or we may try to write an audacious story that just misses the mark,” he said. “We know we’re imperfect but we’re imperfect together and that’s where learning becomes fun. My students choose to retake that test, we fix the project, if needed we apologize and work on being better friends … or better people. In our room we teach that real learning is an act of courageous and relentless pursuit. Once that becomes the goal, it’s truly amazing how much room for growth and learning opens up.”
Tedrow credits Iszler’s teaching philosophy for helping her daughter, Alaina discover that she enjoys writing, drawing and editing through hands-on class projects. “So many times in classrooms these days, teachers forego the creative side of teaching in order to complete the required worksheets for the standardized tests,” she said. “This would have killed my daughter. Instead, she is thriving, mastering way beyond what she has to learn and doing it while having fun.”
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH MATTHEW ISZLER
- Pick three adjectives to describe yourself. Curious, driven and I’ve been told, patient.
- What do you like to do in your free time? Spending time with the family, mountain/road biking and watching IndyCar races.
- What is your favorite book? So many … I love to read. One that I enjoy sharing with my students is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. The last few pages of that book get me every time.
- What makes you happiest? In little things, but especially if I’m sharing time with my family and friends.
- What would people be surprised to learn about you? I did not like school when I was growing up. I mean, really didn’t like it. We’re talking, hide behind the couch to miss the bus, not like school. Thank goodness I grew out of that!