Soccer ball in hand, Justin Niemann bounds down the stairs of his Siesta Key townhouse, hippie curls bouncing with his rhythm. Wearing a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, he’s ready to head to the beach and kick around a soccer ball.
Niemann is still on summer vacation from teaching middle-school math at Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences, which, after three years, finally banned him from wearing sandals at school.
Fun fact: Niemann spends class periods speaking in different accents, which he says makes learning fun for the kids.
“I think they like the Australian one the best,” Niemann says. “The teacher from Down Under — that’s just part of my personality.”
He says the most relatable teachers are the ones who can communicate with their own personality.
“If you try to fake it, the kids see through that,” Niemann says. “What I say to them is how I would enjoy learning.”
He likes to give the kids the incentive of having free time at the end of the class period by putting them in role-playing situations.
“I’ll give them an ironic situation, like a plant salesman in the desert,” Niemann says. “Or, tell one of them he’s a monkey and another she’s a banana salesman, but the monkey can’t speak English. It makes them feel comfortable around each other and share the experience of laughing and working through something when there’s no pressure.”
The exercises build confidence and create a positive environment.
“Within each class, there are such different personalities, but, given a situation, they can all relate to each other,” he says. “Our school is all about tolerance and diversity, so this fits in line with the school’s values.”
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