Meshak’s own Spanish teacher impacted his professional life

MHS Spanish teacher Mike Meshak has been with the district for 16 years. He started his teacher career later in life after serving his country in the Peace Corps and Army Reserves. It was at MHS that Meshak started planning and organizing international trips for students. He’s seen here discussing the popular Spanish-culture movie “Frida” with students Sydney Ballou, Leah Holub, Aubree Fairley, and McKenzie Mysak. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Panther Professionals
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Panther Professionals is a weekly series highlighting educators, administrators, staff and aides who are dedicated to the future of the Monticello Community School District.

     “My path to teaching is not a straight one,” shared Monticello High School Spanish teacher Mike Meshak.

     Meshak said that one teacher he always respected while in high school was his Spanish teacher, but he never anticipated following down that path himself.

     “He made teaching fun and I respected him as a person,” he said fondly.

     Meshak, who’s originally from Wisconsin, spent the first part of his adult years serving his country. His six years with the Army Reserves was an attempt to earn money for college. Meshak also served two years in the Peace Corps, which took him to Guatemala, his first international trip in a Spanish-speaking country. Meshak also served for a year in the National Guard, but admitted that was not the best fit for him.

     “I couldn’t see myself doing that for 20 years,” he said.

     Meshak returned to the Peace Corps for just under a year, and traveled to Ecuador.

     “But I wanted to get going on a career,” he said.

     Meshak’s college career earned him two bachelor’s degrees: a Bachelor of Science in forestry and, 10 years later, a Bachelor of Arts in education with a Spanish endorsement. Meshak attended the University of Wisconsin.

     While in college, Meshak dabbled in French and German “to try them out.” But he reverted to Spanish knowing how much he enjoyed it in high school.

     “I’m not sorry I waited,” he said of his teaching and professional career.

     Meshak’s first teaching job was in Wisconsin, teaching high school Spanish for three years.

     He’s been teaching for the MCSD for 16 years now.

     A love of learning different languages is something Meshak learned from an early age. Growing up in Wisconsin, his father was a mailman and spoke Polish with those on his mail route through the Polish community.

     “That’s why I wanted to speak another language,” he said. “My father was able to pick that up, and I had no idea what they were saying at the time.”

     Meshak enjoys teaching Spanish to all four high school grade levels. He said it’s important that the students not only know how to properly speak the language but know of Spanish culture as well.

     Meshak said the use of technology has made his job both easier and harder at the same time. He uses YouTube to show video clips to his students, enhancing the classroom setting. But technology has made it easier for the students to translate English to Spanish and vice versa, which is not always a good thing.

     “Using Google Translate is cheating,” said Meshak. “If the students can’t translate something, they go online to do it, which is not forcing themselves to learn anything.

     “My biggest fear is students are using technology for shortcuts.”

     This year at MHS, Meshak is the only Spanish teacher.

     It wasn’t until he started working in Monticello that he introduced the idea of taking students and chaperones on international trips.

     “One reason to learn a foreign language is for the opportunity to travel and try to speak the native language,” he said.

     Every three years Meshak takes a group out of the U.S., and next year will be his fifth trip, which will take a group to London, Paris and Barcelona. Meshak, who keeps in touch with his former high school Spanish teacher, reached out to him for advice on this most recent trip.

     “This will be my biggest group going,” said Meshak, with 35 students and adults signed up to go.

     In 2016, a trip was planned for Paris, but after the terrorist attack late in 2015, plans changed. The group traveled to Costa Rica instead.

     Thus far, Meshak has taken students to Costa Rica twice, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, allowing him to return 10 years after he last visited while serving in the Peace Corps.

     “I saw a lot of improvements,” he said of the state of the country.

     Meshak said working for a smaller school district like Monticello allows the teachers to get to know the students better.

     “It’s not just a job,” he said. “The kids here are lucky to have the teachers we have, people who really care.”

     Aside from a busy work schedule, Meshak volunteers his time serving the Monticello community on the city’s Tree Board. Despite living in Marion, he wants to see Monticello thrive, wants to leave a legacy.

     “It’s fun to see trees planted throughout the city,” he said. “It’s evidence I was here.”

     Meshak said his background in forestry lends itself perfectly to the Tree Board.

     “I want to do something that lasts a long time,” he said.

     Meshak also worked with the Monticello Boy Scouts for 14 years before moving out of the area. He now assists a Scout troop in Marion.

     Meshak and his wife make use of their spare time traveling and working on their new house.



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