By Jessica Serrenti
Secondary science education Professor George Sirrakos has won the Phi Delta Kappa Emerging Leader honor.
Sirrakos is one of 25 individuals across the United States chosen for the honor, which is awarded to those in the education field that have made a difference in teaching students in the classroom. He has been a part of PDK since 2011.
Sirrakos won for his research about the success urban students show in their science classrooms versus suburban students in the same classes. Sirrakos’s study started during his time teaching high schools students in New York. His goal was to understand how to help urban students be as successful as suburban students in their learning of science.
Sirrakos used inquiry and cultural perspective to reach his students with daily lessons. After observing a high success rate through this method, Sirrakos moved his study to Germany where he taught grades eight through 12 in science courses including biology, environmental science and physics. Once Sirrakos saw the same high success rate in urban students from another country, he published his findings as part of his thesis for his Master’s degree.
While working as an education consultant at the Institute for Student Achievement and as a teacher in New York, Sirrakos promoted his work to reach others. This led him to become a professor at KU in Aug. 2013.
“I realized that if I continued to teach in New York, I was reaching only 100 students from my classes, but if I teach 30 college students who then go and teach their own 100 students, I am spreading change to more people,” Sirrakos said.
Sirrakos shares a common habit with many college students: changing majors. He originally planned to get a degree in medicine.
After several of Sirrakos’s professors asked if he had considered teaching as a career, Sirrakos decided to try the degree for a semester.
“I ended up loving my classes,” Sirrakos said.
He received his teaching certificate from New York’s Department of Education in 2005.
According to Sirrakos, three educators influenced his research and encouraged him to become a teacher. His high school English teacher illustrated what makes a good teacher. His teacher was young and attuned to the culture his students enjoyed and used what his students liked in his lessons. Sirrakos’s first year mentor during college helped him see the significance of inquiry in the classroom. During his career in New York, the first principal Sirrakos worked under encouraged him to reflect on the practices he uses as a teacher.