Teacher of the Week: Chris Antonsen

Teacher of the Week: Chris Antonsen

CHRIS ANTONSEN has been many things — college professor, web developer, scout leader, dad, grant writer and these days, language-arts teacher at Champaign's Countryside School.

But there's another title he gets questions about. As in: What exactly is a folklorist?

"A folklorist is a person who studies culture but they tend to focus on their own local communities — like, we'll study how people behave at the mall," he says. "All of that has helped me be a better teacher — teaching lit and writing is about skills but it really is a sacred trust concerning teaching young people how to interpret and understand the world around them. So folklore has enriched my ability to teach those things."

The thing that's unique about Countryside is ... I get to teach middle-schoolers in a rarefied environment where I know their families have education as a priority. It's easier to teach a group of people who have that. When I assign something, they do it. I can know that if I've assigned them to read a number of chapters, generally speaking, I know they're going to have done that. That's such a luxury.

I prefer teaching middle school because ... Before I started here, I'd never taught middle school and I believed I could do it and now I think I prefer it. Kids from sixth to eighth grade are ready to start learning and flexing new intellectual muscles and yet they're still not terribly jaded. They're easy to have fun with. The things I get to teach these kids, I wish I had learned the kinds of things they're learning at their age.

When it comes to my favorite book to teach ... that's a tough one. I like them all and wouldn't sacrifice any of them. I favor books about young people who go through an important development in their lives — the word is bildungsroman. I teach classic middle school stories: "The Outsiders," "Of Mice and Men," "The Princess Bride," "To Kill A Mockingbird."

When it comes to my favorite role ... I've enjoyed all of them. Ultimately, my family is the most important to me — my children have also been my students, and I've also been their scout leader. I've enjoyed doing different things, but ultimately, it's just so fun to teach young people.

I got into the education business because ... I grew up in an educational household; my dad was a professor here at the university. Being in a learning environment was my native home base, so I pictured that being what I would do. I more or less followed in the footsteps of my dad. I pursued a master's degree in a funky field — folklore — and then I got my dream job, which was teaching folklore at my alma mater in Kentucky. We were there for eight years, and it turns out I like teaching more than I was able to focus on in Kentucky. We pined to move back to Champaign, and when the job at Countryside opened up, I applied.

My biggest classroom pet peeve is ... The classic one: when a student says, "Mr. A., did I miss anything important yesterday?"

If I wasn't teaching ... I would be a luxury custom treehouse designer. I'm very juvenile and that helps for teaching middle school. I loved building, especially as a kid, and it's the perfect combination of creation and construction — and the element of whimsy. Put me there, I'll do it.

As far as bucket-list goals ... I want to lead at least one educational tour through England to visit sites where I did research and talk about literature. I really want to do that.

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