Katherine Kuzma’s decision to mentor Bryon Mane as her first student teacher highlights the essential roles that faith and mentorship play in shaping the paths of aspiring educators.

Within the halls of Mill Creek Middle School, Katherine Kuzma, a Physical Education teacher and Bryon Mane, CUAA K-12 Health and Physical Education major and current student teacher, embarked on a journey that would shape both their lives in profound ways.

Embracing New Roles

Kuzma has been an educator for 16 years with the first 10 of those years as a high school math teacher in Stockbridge, Michigan. She knew in the back of her mind that she wanted to become a physical education teacher and move back to her hometown of Dexter, so when the assistant principal of Mill Creek in Dexter told Kuzma about the job opening, she knew this is where God was telling her she needed to be.

“I do think my math classrooms prepared me well for my current position and so did my coaching and fitness background,” Kuzma said. “I coached varsity soccer and varsity basketball while I was teaching math, and I have been a group fitness instructor teaching Zumba for 10 years.”

Making CUAA Home

Motivated by a deep-seated desire to teach and influenced by his father’s role as a principal, Mane felt a strong pull towards CUAA. He was particularly attracted to the opportunity to both pursue his passion for baseball and enroll in the Education program. Having a former high school friend already on CUAA’s baseball team eased his transition, prompting him to confidently approach Head Coach Zach Johnston after hearing positive feedback from his friend. Upon visiting the campus with his father to explore both the baseball team and the Education program, Mane was convinced that CUAA was the perfect fit for his collegiate journey, knowing instinctively that it would become his home for the next four years.

“CUAA was where I needed to be, it is where God wanted to place me,” Mane said.

Observation Hours

Dr. Sara Clemm von Hohenberg, the Director of the Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction with Elementary and Secondary Teacher Certification Program, oversees the placement of students for their observation hours in various classrooms. Having known Kuzma from their church community and developed a friendship, Clemm von Hohenberg approached Kuzma regarding the possibility of hosting a student teacher. Initially hesitant, Kuzma was persuaded after Clemm von Hohenberg assured her of sending only the best student.

Two years ago, Mane completed his observation hours under Kuzma’s guidance, fostering a stronger bond between them. Maintaining contact afterward, Kuzma was eager to welcome Mane as her student teacher when the opportunity arose. As Mane sought a PE setting accommodating his baseball commitments for his student teaching placement, Kuzma readily accommodated his request.

“Now he is my brother in Christ,” Kuzma reflected. “I absolutely love working with him and seeing him every day.”

Student Teaching

When it first started Kuzma was in charge of planning the classes and Mane was assisting, but it transitioned to where they both would plan classes. Mane explained, “There are some periods where I have full control in planning the lessons, so I get to be more hands on with the students.”

As Mane stepped into the role of student teacher, Kuzma found herself navigating uncharted waters. She admitted, “Sometimes it can be hard to hand things off even though I know he will do a great job… Sometimes I struggle with knowing when I should take a step back and let him figure things out himself.”

Mane even gets the opportunity to plan classes with another PE teacher at Mills Creek. According to Kuzma, this arrangement offers Mane the chance to engage with a different teaching style and gain insights into teaching alongside someone with contrasting methods.

Rewards and Challenges

For Mane the rewards out way any challenges he has over his student teaching and his last semester at CUAA.

“The most fulfilling aspect is arriving every day and realizing that this is precisely what I’m meant to do,” Mane reflected. “It’s not confirmed by the 7 am wake-up call each morning, but rather by the moment when the first student enters during the first hour and asks me how I am doing. That’s when I feel the most rewarded.”

Juggling everything from teaching to his baseball schedule poses a significant challenge for Mane. His days typically start at Millls Creek from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., followed immediately by baseball practice. Sometimes, he has additional commitments such as yoga or lifting after practice. Upon returning home, Mane juggles mealtime with lesson planning for the next day, occasionally winding down with a movie alongside his roommates.

“It’s quite a balancing act, and it did take some adjustment,” Mane admitted. “But honestly, I can’t imagine wanting to do any other job.”

While Kuzma highlights the most rewarding aspect as knowing that she is making an impact on him. “You will not find too many more men who are just as great as he is, so the idea that I can make a slight impact on him is just incredible,” explained Kuzma.

Another cherished aspect for her is witnessing how Mane is influencing her. She relishes observing him in action and learning from him, particularly in areas where she may not have ventured herself. Through his example, she learns to improve and excel in ways she hadn’t considered before.

The most challenging aspect for Kuzma is delegating tasks to Mane. Despite her confidence in his abilities to excel, it remains difficult for her to relinquish control. This feeling is particularly heightened now, amidst his baseball season. There’s a strong urge to step in and take charge, yet she acknowledges that Mane doesn’t need rescuing—he’s fully capable of handling things on his own.

Journey of Growth and Reflection

As time progressed, their rapport grew, fueled by shared values and a mutual respect for each other’s faith. Mane reflected, “Katherine has been a role model for me… I see how the students respond to her and how they gravitate towards her. My favorite thing is watching her do her work and seeing the impact she has on students and how I can continue to be a sponge and learn from her.”

For Kuzma, watching Mane blossom under her guidance was a source of immeasurable joy. She expressed, “I absolutely love working with him… I feel like I couldn’t have a student teacher that I trust as much as him and who didn’t have any faith aspect at all.”

The Future

Mane’s future is uncertain but promising, with another year of eligibility left for baseball and the possibility of pursuing his Master’s at CUAA. Despite the ambiguity of his plans, Mane remains steadfast in his faith, leaving the outcome in God’s hands. “It is all up to God and whatever His plans are,” he reflects, embracing the journey ahead with trust and surrender.

Kuzma eagerly awaits her next student teacher but emphasizes the importance of initial observation hours to get to know them personally. It’s crucial for her to ensure that the prospective student teacher is open to feedback and willing to grow. “I don’t think I could have a student teacher whose faith is not important to them,” she asserts, highlighting the significance of shared values.

As Mane is set to graduate this May, his time with Kuzma and in her classroom is ending very soon. “Having the opportunity to work with him has been the biggest vocational blessing of my life,” Kuzma said.

Want in?

The curriculum emphasizes the significance of physical activity and health for all individuals, aiming to equip students with knowledge in various lifetime sports, recreational activities, and understanding of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. With a focus on appreciating and studying human movement, the program prepares students for careers in teaching, coaching, athletics administration, recreation, and allied health and wellness programs. By pursuing this degree, students will learn about exercise physiology, motor development, anatomy, physiology, and health education, gaining practical experience through student teaching and clinical observations to develop their own teaching style and classroom management skills.

—This story is written by Keara Chaperon, Social Media Manager for Concordia University Ann Arbor and Concordia University Wisconsin. She may be reached at keara.chaperon@cuaa.edu.