Travis Petrowski Linden High School
I teach World History, U.S History I, and U.S. II at Linden High School. I have a wonderful, diverse class. When I begin the school year, they want to know if I am authentic. I will share my story of a very humble beginning, with drugs and alcohol in my family, five who have gone to jail for things minor and major, including murder. A father who left when I was eight. A background of no one going to college, and being frowned upon for going to college. How I fell in love with an African-American woman and asked her to marry me, but she wanted to stay friends. They know why I never drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or do drugs, and why I do believe that hard work is the key to success.
They really begin to see that I don’t have any agenda, and that I want the best for them. They begin to relate to me better. And I say to them, maybe some of you can relate to my story, maybe some of you don’t, but they see they begin to trust me. They usually start thinking about applying the lessons of my life to their life. All I ask is that they consider it, and work hard.
I go deep in my teachings of African-American history. I teach the deeper stuff about such heroes as Alan Keyes, or Frederick Douglas, or Dr. Martin Luther King, and they really enjoy it. And we don’t learn about it just in February; we learn African American history all year. And we learn about Latino history in this country, too.
When teaching history to the students, my number one question is always, “How can you apply what you learned here to your life? What are the good things you can replicate and the bad things you can avoid?” Learn from other people’s mistakes, but also be inspired by the great heroes in history.
My only rule in class is The Golden Rule: Treat everyone as you want to be treated. It is actually a covenant that I have every student sign at the beginning of the year, including myself. If I start acting out of line, the kids have permission to call me on it.
I try to be there for all of my students. I volunteer at our school’s bible club and sometimes my students will show up. I also run the chess club. The LGBT community in a former school I used to teach at gave me an award, and I am a former pastor and led a bible club at school. I was a chaplain of my previous school’s football team, and Linden has some incredible sports teams. Linden is a wonderful place with great students, administrators, teachers, and parents.
I had a student write a letter to me this year after he moved, telling me that I was like a father figure to him. That really means a lot to me, because I try to connect with each student. I try to maintain positive relationships and treat everyone as I would want to be treated. My students come above all other things, and they know I have high expectations of them, and they wind up doing better in my class because of it.”