Teacher of the Month, Mentor for Life
Former Kenwood Academy teacher talks about throwing out the lesson plan and building relationships with students.
After more than 13 years, a former “teacher of the month” is no longer teaching at Kenwood Academy. Ilhan Avcioglu, known by most as “Mr. A”, is still loved and respected by many of his students. The veteran was teaching for 12 years before a student nominated him for the award issued by WGN and Saint Xavier University in 2016.
“It was really hard saying goodbye to the faculty,” said Avcioglu. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the students because they hadn’t come in yet.”
At Kenwood, Mr. A taught many classes such as U.S. History, Global Issues, AP U.S. Government, and Politics. His interest in political science was sparked by his family. His grandmother worked for the democratic party in Chicago and he recalls watching presidential elections on television with her. His father was a doctor on the west side of Chicago, and this inspired him to do work that tried to help people who were not being treated fairly.
This interest led him to obtain his master’s degree in Political Science from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. He taught in Boston Public Schools as a substitute teacher and as a research assistant in order to pay his student debt.
Thereafter, he moved to Chicago and taught at some local schools, including Dyett Middle School, Proviso West High School, and Lincoln Park High School. At the time, he knew Elizabeth Kirby who was a history teacher at Kenwood. Later, Kirby became the assistant principal and encouraged Mr. A to apply to the history department. His interest, particularly in Kenwood, arrived from the school’s overall prestige and great reputation. He interviewed with Kenwood three times -- first in 1994, a second time in 2000, and again, in 2004 when he was finally hired.
Hear more of Mr. A's thoughts on incorporating humor and opinions in his lesson plans.
Mr. A’s goal has always been to motivate his students to become politically aware and active. He stresses to his students not only the importance of voting but the value of a democracy and the role of its citizens.
“We have a democracy and in order for it to function properly, people have to participate, be educated, and informed,” he said. “If they don’t participate and they’re not informed, the democracy is going to go away.”
He sees himself as a very laid-back teacher; humorous, compassionate, and high expectations. He focuses on getting to know his students as people. He aims to use humor to keep his students from falling asleep and most importantly, retain information. Students at Kenwood considered Mr. A the teacher you could talk to about anything.
“Whenever I went to his class I felt like I’d learn something,” said William Holmes, now a marketing student at Northern Illinois University who graduated from Kenwood in 2015. “He was a teacher that would understand. He was very open-minded.”
Holmes had Mr. A for AP Government and Civil Rights and Consumer Education. He said Mr. A took the time to get know his students as individuals and would change his approach to teaching according to his students’ needs.
“ He pretty much said always keep to your guns and basically make sure you always stick to what you work towards,” Holmes said.
“Actually get to know him and actually listen to him because he has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge,” said Holmes. “He can help you, in the long run, get to know yourself better as a person.”
Mr. A has since left Kenwood, but there are still a few things that he wants his students to take with them. He warns against being cynical and believing that things will never change as far as our political system. “Be compassionate, be aware of our political system and, participate in it.” he said. He encourages his students to stay loud and involved. His hopes are that his students take everything he’s taught them and put it to good use.
Mr. A currently teaches at Andover High school in Andover, Massachusetts.