NWL teacher had special chemistry with students
When school starts in September, Steve Gensits won’t be there to welcome students to the world of chemistry in his tie-dyed lab coat.
“What I always wanted from any job [was] to make a difference,” Gensits said, just days before closing his classroom door one last time. “I just needed to be creative and have autonomy, to have personal integrity, to be allowed that.”
By all accounts, Gensits was true to his mission.
“I always wanted to leave the profession while I enjoyed what I [was] doing,” he said after a teaching career that spanned 32 years, with the last 11 at Northwestern Lehigh. “I never thought I’d be teaching chemistry but I had a chemistry degree so I kind of got channeled into that.”
Gensits said that over his career, the teaching fundamentals have not changed, though he admitted he “evolved.”
“I think I’ve given much more responsibility to the students over the years,” Gensits stated. “I write all my experiments and tailor them to what I want them to learn.
“We [were] in the lab three or four days a week. It’s essential for them to work with their hands.
“I try to shake them out of those habits that inhibit learning and rather encourage them to work by doing things.”
Gensits said everything he did in the classroom had a purpose.
“Even if it’s just to stir interest, that’s the guiding principle to my class,” Gensits said. “I do three shows a day, each one a little bit different.”
Gensits’ purpose was not limited by the textbook.
What he wanted to do first and foremost was give students the opportunity to “just understand how to do science.
“When they have to do something in the world having to do with science, students should be able to come into it with a little understanding of the scientific method.”
Gensits came to teaching rather unwittingly.
“I was 29. I’d been in the military and been a paramedic,” he said. “After graduating from Indiana University in Bloomington, I thought I could go anywhere I wanted. Somehow I got involved in this teaching.”
Gensits said he earned his teaching certificate in a great program.
“As a graduate student, I was at a party, talking to a guy who turned out to be the dean of education. He brought me into a program that [started] in the fall, [and was designed] basically to get your teacher’s certificate,” he said. “We’d meet several times a week to discuss our experiences and readings.”
His first teaching assignment was at Evergreen Open High School, run by ’60s radical.
“The students decided what kind of classes they [wanted] and the governance was by consensus,” Gensits said. “After that year, my professor said they wanted me to teach in the open classroom. He sat me down and said they need good teachers everywhere.”
Gensits said good teachers are essential to education and the community must trust these practitioners.
“You hire the best people you can and then you step back,” he said. “It’s really important when people are involved and giving their souls [that] they have the ability to do what they think is right.”
Gensits first teaching assignment was in Denver, Colo.
“That was my first paid go-round, Gensits said. “I was in Denver for 14 years, in six different schools, everything from inner city schools and schools with busing [but] this is the longest I’ve been at a school.
“I cut my teeth in the city schools in Denver.”
Though Gensits admitted he loved the West, family drew him back East.
“Each school has its own ethos and spirit,” Gensits said. “Students’ life experiences and interests are different certainly.”
Over the years, Gensits noticed some students lacked self-confidence in their abilities.
“We probably had the same percentages of kids who are at the top of the class, involved in everything, getting the grades,” he mused. “It’s that large group in the middle that is not engaged.
“We have so many students that are identified. They don’t expect as much of themselves and end up making excuses instead.
“Because they’re immersed in this thinking, they actually become a product of that thinking.”
As a committed teacher, Gensits worked to build student confidence.
“The overall thing is if you really care about the students they will do everything for you,” Gensits said, who reports frequent visits from past students.
“If you care about the students, they pick up on that,” he said. “I love teaching students across the spectrum.
“I related to them we had a lot of fun. They had great questions for me. I loved the kids.”