Fourth grade teacher John Uridil never thought he would be back in the classroom when he took his first job in advertising in Chicago. But shortly after starting his career, he realized his passion was teaching.
So, having caught the teaching bug in 2004 after working as a second grade faculty assistant at Pembroke Hill, John left the world of advertising to earn his master’s degree in early education from Notre Dame.
After graduating from Notre Dame, John traveled the world teaching. He worked at schools in Indiana, Minnesota, Colorado and Kansas – and in Australia and Ethiopia. When he decided he wanted to teach in Australia, he just picked up and moved, without residency or any job prospects.
“I took a chance. I had to get residency and had to prove myself to them within the Australian education system,” he said. “The experience was invaluable because I got to see a different part of the world – and how they were educating their children.”
John now brings that world view and sense of adventure to fourth graders at Pembroke Hill.
“I tell them bits of my stories and apply them to Pembroke Hill so that the students have real life examples. I want them to be equipped,” he said. “I encourage the children to set goals, be ambitious and take chances.”
John uses a special method designed to help his students process their thoughts and hold themselves accountable. Using thinking maps, he teaches students different levels of proficiency so that they can track and monitor their progress – and set new goals along the way. These maps also allow students to give meaningful feedback to their peers.
“The theme is accountability and self-discipline,” he said. “The thinking maps provide structure for students to be honest with themselves and their skill sets. We’re not just writing something, but we’re able to describe the writing with the appropriate elements behind it.”
John uses his sense of humor, which he said he inherited from his father while growing up in rural Nebraska, to connect and engage his students. He says humor helps the fourth graders learn about nuances and how to use them.
“If a package comes for me in the classroom, I won’t just tell them what’s in the package,” he said. “I make them guess, expand their imaginations and keep their attention. They’ve got to be engaged to learn.”
John spent time teaching in Rochester, Minn., where the students were very gifted and motivated. He then taught in an inner city school in Denver.
He said it was such a contrast from what the students saw as normal. But he used the same methods to inspire them. “They are different perspectives, but I wanted to instill in them the same principles and passion for education.”
Meanwhile, John is thrilled to be back at PHS this year.
“Pembroke Hill is great because it’s such a strong community. Parents, students, faculty – we’re all intertwined,” he said. “It’s exciting to be here, to revisit relationships and make Pembroke Hill my career.”
John says his values, passion and ambition also come from his father, a pharmacist. “He was a go-getter and treated people with respect. He didn’t ever complain.”
A sense of adventure led John to leave Hastings, Neb., after graduating from high school, for college in Kansas City, where he knew no one. John earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in business administration from Rockhurst University.
When John isn’t in the classroom, he’s seeking out activities outdoors with his wife. Married in June 2012, the two like to bike, camp and garden.
In his garden, John grows cucumbers and makes them into his own dill pickles. He hopes to manufacture a family recipe for the pickles that he’s been canning since he was a boy, when he learned the recipes and pickling process from his grandmother. The name of the pickles – “Ur A Dil,” after his last name of Uridil.
But as for his true passion: “Teaching is not a job for me. It’s where my heart is.”