Educator Profile

Overcoming the Learning Curve

Hillsborough High School's Tim Zavacki engages students with creative design tools in his Intro to Technology course.

Not a day goes by that Tim Zavacki isn't integrating technology into some part of the curriculum. A technology instructor at Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough, NJ, Zavacki teaches the 3-year-old Introduction to Technology class to a mixed group of students in grades 9 through 12. One of his most recent projects was a photo essay that caught the attention of the New Jersey Technology Education Association (NJTEA), which gave Zavacki an Innovative Technology Educator Award for his efforts.

According to Zavacki, the project found students developing photo essays that are focused on sustainability and sustainable design. Using Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, students create photo essays that correspond with one or more of the five themes that Zavacki teaches in the semester-long course: manufacturing, construction, communication, transportation, and biotechnology.

Tying those themes into a project that involves complex software programs isn't easy for Zavacki, who said the learning curve can be steep and is sometimes insurmountable, particularly in a class that only lasts one semester.

"I'm still in the early stages of working through the bugs, and figuring out a way to get through the coursework without having to rush," said Zavacki. "There are just so many different aspects of Photoshop that a lot of students feel hurried when we're doing it."

Challenges aside, Zavacki said he's pleased with the results of the overall class and the project itself and was anticipating a good turnout for the second semester class at the time he was interviewed for this article. "The response was pretty good; the students got a lot out of it," said Zavacki, who said he sees the course as a primer, rather than an end-all for students who want to learn how to use design software. "Students who take the course and do the project come away with a solid introduction to InDesign, which we use throughout the school."

Zavacki's approach to technology, and his ability to parlay it into useful classroom instruction, garnered him more than just one NJTEA award. This year, the organization presented him with three accolades--the Innovative Technology Educator award, the NJTEA Image Award, and an outstanding county representative award--at its annual conference in May.

The NJTEA Image Award honors individuals within the membership that make a special effort that results in positive reflection of technology education outside of the profession. Whether it's through a single act or concentrated effort over a period of time, these individuals are "worthy of recognition as exceptional educators that realize that leadership and advocacy is needed for the profession beyond the walls of their classroom," according to the NJTEA.

The organization's Innovative Technology Educator award honors outstanding dedication, innovation, extraordinary contributions and performance by technology education teachers. The award is bestowed upon six recipients, and each receives a $10,000 unrestricted cash prize.

That cash could help further Zavacki's dedication to teaching technology during a time when budgets are tight and funding is scarce. In fact, he said the lack of funding is by far his biggest obstacle right now as a technology educator.

"The hardest part of my job right now is the shortage of funds due to the economy," said Zavacki, who over the last few months has begun soliciting grants to help alleviate some of those financial woes. "I've been going after grants, particularly in the more involved areas," remarked Zavacki, "such as the integration of biotech, hydroponics, and composting into the Introduction to Technology course."

Zavacki is bullish on the future, both in terms of his ability to integrate more technology into the learning process and successfully fund those initiatives. Calling himself a "fly technology teacher," this hip and cool educator is looking forward to a future where more students get hands-on training with sophisticated software packages while in school, thus preparing them for success in the workforce.

"Right now, it's really just the economy and budgets that are holding back my school district and many others," said Zavacki. "It's a big challenge, but we'll work through it."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].