‘Teacher of the Week’ hitting a high wave by engaging students in math

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — When Brandon Puhalski is not surfing or fishing outside, he stays busy with his other passion — teaching elementary students about math.

A teacher with New Hanover County Schools, Puhalski has taught at Ogden Elementary School for the last three years and he’s been teaching for a total of six years.

Recently, WWAY received a ‘Teacher of the Week’ nomination which commended Puhalski for not only being a great teacher, but also knowing how to relate math concepts to real life.

The day we showed up at the school to surprise him, Puhalski’s students knew something special was about to take place and their imaginations were running wild.

“We didn’t know who was coming and names were being thrown around,” Puhalski said. “Some kids thought Michael Jordan was coming in.”

That’s because Jordan once attended the school when he was a boy before he became a basketball legend.

A graduate of Salisbury University in Maryland, Puhalski says he decided to pursue teaching after volunteering in a friend’s classroom several years ago.

For many students, Puhalski is the first male teacher they’ve ever had and that’s because there aren’t many male teachers in the profession.

According to 2020 data from the U.S. Department of Education, only 11 percent of elementary school educators nationwide are men. In the New Hanover County School District, 12.9 percent of educators at the elementary level are male. Across the district, 21.25 percent of teachers at elementary, secondary and other schools are male.

“Many of our students haven’t had the opportunity to have a male role model in the classroom,” Puhalski said. “I try to set as good of an example as I can being understanding and open to the different interests and views and backgrounds of my students, and make sure everybody feels like they’re recognized, understood, comfortable and in a safe place where they can be open to learn.”

Assistant Principal Stephanie Washington says Puhalski has a natural talent for creating healthy relationships with his students.

“You’ll notice if you listen in that he’s calling the boys ‘gentlemen,'” she said. “It establishes a mutual respect between the two. He interacts with them, respectfully, at all times in structured settings such as the classroom but then if you catch him down at the playground you’ll see them shooting hoops with the kids just the same.”

Washington says he also knowns how to make learning about math interesting.

“It’s not uncommon to walk in and see every child’s hand raised in the classroom because they want to participate in his lesson,” Washington said.

Even though New Hanover County’s elementary students just returned to class for full-time, in-person learning three weeks ago, and North Carolina End-of-Grade Tests, also known as EOGs, is fast approaching, Puhalski thinks his students will be prepared.

“Even though we’re going to have to kick it into high gear at the end of the year here, I’m confident that we’ll get most of the content that we need,” he said.

As for being WWAY’s ‘Teacher of the Week?’

“It feels absolutely incredible,” he said. “The fact that I can make at least one of my students feel that way about being in the classroom with me and about learning from me makes this job worth it. I’m really grateful that I’ve been given this opportunity.”

Brandon Puhalski, our ‘Teacher of the Week’ making learning about math fun and interesting for students.

If you know a teacher who’s making an impact on students in the Cape Fear, click here to nominate them. Each week’s winner receives a $100 gift card thanks our partnership with Down East Heating and Air Conditioning.

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