Monday, April 28, 2014

Alumni Spotlight: Amy (Lesniak) Hirzel

By Amy (Lesniak) Hirzel, Class of 2009, Integrated Language Arts Major

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I can honestly say that I am doing what I love and am passionate and proud of my career. I am currently the head of the English department at St. Paul High School in Norwalk, OH.  I teach AP Literature and Composition, senior British Literature, and sophomore English.  I also teach an energetic and fun-loving section of Speech and Drama.

Some of the highlights of my career have included writing a style guide used by my school from grades 7-12, starting a literary magazine and writing club at St. Paul, and developing a writing program for our English department. One of my main focuses as an English educator is ensuring my students leave my classroom with the ability to communicate effectively, especially in terms of college-level composition.  By dissecting my own writing process developed at Ashland, I’ve established my own writing “boot camp” which focuses on composing strong, interesting, and analytical arguments and personal essays.

However, my road to being the satisfied teacher I am today was full of uncertainty and quite a lot of sleep deprivation.  I didn’t get a job right out of college—a blow to my ego that leveled me at the time.  I ended up subbing and working at after school programs from August to October of 2009.  I got a break in mid-October, though, and was an interim teacher at an all-girls private school in Cleveland for the rest of the school year.  At St. Joseph Academy, I did my best to create a cohesive curriculum with very little prep time and create authentic, creative experiences for my girls.  After that position ended, I was offered a junior high teaching position at St. Paul.  After a year there, I was promoted to the high school and have enjoyed my time here ever since.

In the past five years of my career, I have taught eleven different preps and had to develop most of the curriculums from scratch.  From World Literature to 7th Grade Reading to, yes, a random Psychology/Sociology class, I have tried my best to make meaningful learning experiences in my classroom.  Experimentation, research, and planning have filled these past five years, and I am thankful to the Ashland English Department for aiding in the development of these skills.  I wish I could say that I have it all figured out, but I’m consistently learning and adapting with my students and the profession.  However, I think that’s part of the fun of it.

While at Ashland, the English department was my home.  I worked in the English office, the Writing Studio, and the Summer MFA Program.  The professors “got me” and pushed me to think, read, and write with passion and intention.  I find myself daily using teaching methods I learned from them.  Dr. Fitzsimmons shows up when I teach analysis and the author/reader relationship.  Dr. Weaver enters our classroom discussions on Shakespeare as we contemplate if a character is “good or bad.” Dr. Brown’s encouraging voice emanates from me as I support my students during our in-depth discussions.  I owe these and all my Ashland English teachers so much, and am fortunate to have had them.

The most rewarding aspect of my job is that we, as English educators, enable students to connect and contribute to the eternal human conversation.  Through the study of the literature and ideas of the past, students are empowered and prepared to write their own stories of the future.  Although it may sound lofty and perhaps a little too Dead Poets Society, this is honestly what I believe I am fortunate enough to do on a daily basis.

And sometimes I'll even get an email from a student like this one:

Hello Mrs. Hirzel!
I would very much like to share my college application essays but we don't really like each other, so I will send a load of other odds and ends instead.
My summer has been rather fascinating, and I hope yours has been equally so. I've been writing in the notebook you gave me too! It's quite fun.
Also I give you many many thanks for my awesome AP score! Yes, the work came from my little noggin, but my noggin was only prepped for such a task through the kindness and hard-work of the coffee-fueled HRZ-L 3000.
I hope everything is well and that the school year is looking bright!