February 21, 2017
School & Youth
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  • At Magothy River Middle and Severn River Middle, Rob Stojakovich preaches hard work. “We all have to have this idea that we’re responsible to each other, to be prepared so that we’re all successful,” he said.
    Zach Sparks
    At Magothy River Middle and Severn River Middle, Rob Stojakovich preaches hard work. “We all have to have this idea that we’re responsible to each other, to be prepared so that we’re all successful,” he said.

Rob Stojakovich Preaches Importance Of Knowledge And Hard Work

Zach Sparks
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February 8, 2017

The 2017 Anne Arundel County Public Schools Teacher of the Year semifinalists cover a wide range of grade levels and subject areas. Among the 10 potential winners are Tim Smith, a physical education teacher at Folger McKinsey Elementary in Severna Park; Robert Stojakovich, a music teacher at Magothy River Middle School in Arnold; and Alma Durm, who teaches special-needs students at Ruth Parker Eason School in Millersville.

The semifinalists will be honored at the 31st annual Excellence in Education banquet at the BWI Marriott in Linthicum on April 26, and one of these three may represent Anne Arundel County Public Schools as its Teacher of the Year. But before that, get to know these dedicated educators who consider teaching to be more than just a job.

“When we start something, it’s rough, and it’s like chipping off the clay and underneath is this beautiful sculpture. They forget that, but it always starts with that chunk of clay.”

Music teacher Rob Stojakovich’s philosophy is that learning each piece of music and learning how to play each instrument is a process and that success comes not as a result of talent but from hard work.

“Everything comes down to training, whether it's music or constructing a sentence,” he added. “One of my favorite clips is Mike Johnson when he says if you play something fast and sloppy, your brain says, ‘Cool, that must be the way it's done.’ You've got to care about every note.”

And it’s through hard work that he sets an example for his students.

Although Magothy River Middle School officially opens at 9:10am, Stojakovich arrives at 6:30am each morning to prepare his room and instruments for morning rehearsals. Willing students come early to hone their abilities, which is important to Stojakovich because the ABC schedule for the arts limits the in-school time middle-schoolers spend with their instruments.

With the ABC schedule, each elective will be held, ideally, once or twice a week, but a snow day or a field trip can disrupt that schedule.

“If we didn't rehearse outside of the school day, there would be many times my students would go as many as nine to 11 days in between classes,” Stojakovich said. “With Ebbinghaus' curve of forgetting taking hold, we would be going backwards. There are so many incredible music teachers in our system, and especially the middle school teachers who are put in a position to not succeed.”

For that reason, Stojakovich spends extra time teaching his students — 140 in band and strings and 115 in general music, which includes guitar and singing. With music, he hears the students’ responses right away. He doesn’t need assessments to gauge how they are progressing.

“It’s OK to fail here because it’s safe,” he said. “Airplane pilots can’t fail. But they do have simulations where they fail. Unless you fail, you don’t know where your strengths and weaknesses are.”

Stojakovich is in his 31st year of teaching. He split time between Southern High (seven years) and Southern Middle (three years); he worked at South River High School and Edgewater Elementary for one year each. Stojakovich mentored the youth at Bates Middle School for 12 years before spending nine years at Chesapeake High in Pasadena and then Magothy River Middle, where he has been for the last four years. He also teaches one class at Severn River Middle.

In that time, he watched Chesapeake High win several state championships as marching band director and eight of his students became soloists with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Side by Side program.

“These kids, whom many of us would just slap a label on, come up with some of the most incredible stories, and they just smile the whole time they tell you about them,” he said. “… It's been a really amazing journey.”

Magothy River Middle Principal Christopher Mirenzi called Stojakovich one of the most extraordinary teachers he has encountered. “Even now, in his 31st year of teaching, he is exuberant, creative and epitomizes the growth mindset,” Mirenzi said. “The hallmark of Rob’s teaching is that he teaches students to become exceptional learners. His classroom is truly a learning lab, one where students and teacher simultaneously learn about music, about each other, and about the way we all ‘perform’ together.”

Stojakovich noted that he has a son in the third-grade who plays cello and he wants to cultivate a good music climate at Magothy River Middle for both his son, who will eventually attend the school, and for the current population.

“I tell the kids that music is an amplifier to your soul,” Stojakovich said. “We need music because it makes us human.”


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