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The Person I Would Become

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How a teacher who believed in keeping it weird still makes me beam with pride.

By Niki Jones

Anyone who knows me from childhood would easily agree that my 5th-grade teacher absolutely shaped the person I’d become.

Mr. Stasiuk, a paraplegic, had one of the most fun outlooks on life of anyone I’d ever met, which translated directly to the way he taught his class. I’d describe my whole 5th-grade experience as joyous, thanks to Mr. Stasiuk, whose primary goal was to unleash the creativity in all of us and make us think outside the box for even the most mundane of tasks. Weirdness wasn’t just accepted; it was preferable.

A brilliant artist, Mr. Stasiuk hand drew weekly newsletters for our class, illustrating all the funny things that had happened in our classroom during the week, which taught us to laugh at ourselves. He had a tree stump next to his chair, a coveted position if you were chosen to sit on it and read James and the Giant Peach aloud to the class. Instead of boring poems, we were encouraged to write parody songs a la Weird Al Yankovic. (I remember mine was Caterpillar to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.)

There was no bullying in Mr. Stasiuk’s classroom simply because, in there, it just wouldn’t have been considered cool. Nerds ruled for their quirky outlook. Crazy ideas were rewarded. We all knew something very special was happening, and those of us who knew we were weird flourished. For our class group photo, he had everyone wear crazy costumes just because.

I carried Mr. Stasiuk’s philosophy and creative outlook on life with me through high school, college and into my graphic-design career, during which people often referred to me as weird, making me beam with pride. I was open to sharing my ideas without fear. Happily self-deprecating and always ready to laugh, I was truly me, all because Mr. Stasiuk taught me it was OK. And, ultimately, I ended up living in the city that prides itself on keeping it weird.

I’m lucky enough to still be in touch with Mr. Stasiuk through social media, and I am happy to see he still has his beautiful home, beautiful wife, makes beautiful art and is still as weird as ever.

Originally from New York, Austin Woman Creative Director Niki Jones has been calling Austin home since 2005.

 

October’s Last Word topic will be “How a Book Changed My Life.” To be considered, email a 500-word submission by Sept. 1 to submissions@awmediainc.com.

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