25 Years of BP Teachers of Excellence: Matthew Prnka
You never know where a conversation may lead. Those words ring true for a chemistry teacher at Eagle River High School who draws from his own experiences to motivate students.
Matthew Prnka has been an educator for 20 years and has spent 17 years with the Anchorage School District.
He says that he was originally destined to be a doctor, all set for medical school when he had one of the most important conversations of his life.
The professor Prnka worked with as a teacher's aide during his senior year in college made a suggestion.
"One day he just made an off-the-cuff comment. Saying, 'Hey you know what? You're pretty good at this, have you ever thought about teaching?" Prnka relayed. "And he was such a powerful mentor that here I am."
Now, Prnka’s the mentor. He understands the importance of his role with students and conveying to them the importance of science. Specifically, chemistry.
"It's the skills, knowing the science," he explained. "Being able to read labels on cleaners, cosmetics, pharmaceutical drugs, reading labels and having some sort of insight on the terminology is a huge thing today, just everyday life."
Prnka says he's always available if a student needs to work through a problem. He also makes instructional YouTube videos for help beyond the classroom.
"I really like Prnka because of how he teaches," said Christian, a junior at Eagle River High. "Most teachers you can't really understand, and I just really like how he does it."
Prnka admits that high school chemistry can be an intimidating subject. He says he likes to have fun with students through hands-on learning, like using a lab to make slime to help understand molecular bonding.
"It's fun to get out of the textbook," said Prnka.
He encourages his students as they learn to understand complex processes but he has a very simple message for his students: put forth the effort.
“Just pursue the learning, pursue the knowledge,” he said. “Grades are a number and yes they’re important, but learning will go further in life than an A or a B on a transcript.”
He encourages his students to take risks, to experience new and different subject matter.
"Learn as much as you can because you never know where that skill is going to take you," Prnka said. "Somebody may tell you, you're pretty good at this."
Matthew Prnka strives to give his students what his professor gave him years ago — a prime example of what can happen when you keep an open mind and dedicate yourself to your dreams.
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