As a teacher in Huron Valley over the past decade, Nick Peruski’s approach asks students in his high school business, multimedia, and web design classes to face challenges, develop and test solutions, and learn from what works and what doesn’t.
“It’s so hard as a teacher because our instinct is to help kids, but when you step in to help you’re preventing a teachable moment from occurring,” he said in an interview.
For his student-centered approach, the local MEA leader was honored with a national Milken Educator Award. Dubbed the “Oscars of Teaching,” the award comes with a $25,000 unrestricted cash prize and membership in the National Milken Educator Network.
Peruski spent seven years as a middle school math teacher before he transitioned into his current role teaching and overseeing the district’s career and technical education (CTE) department. In his project-based business class at Lakeland High School, Peruski has students run a virtual company and manage personal finances in a simulated world.
Students apply and interview for jobs, develop a product line, track sales, and process payroll. They receive virtual paychecks and learn to balance personal checkbooks while paying for rent, utilities, food and other life necessities. They write and present business plans for competition at the state and national level, where they also design and operate a sales booth at huge student-run trade shows and compete to solve global business challenges.
His multimedia class exposes kids to a range of skills in video, audio and photography. Kids whose interest is piqued in one area can move on to other programs that offer a deeper dive.
As a Milken winner with a newly widened sphere of influence, Peruski will develop a platform that he’s interested in advocating about on a bigger stage. It will be tough to choose, he said. He’s passionate about CTE and creating more opportunity for young people.
At the same time, as vice-president of the Huron Valley Education Association, he worries about underfunding of public education and the resulting teacher shortage. “We need to attract talent to the field and inspire our children to consider a career in education, so that has got to change.”
But he’s also interested in advocating for greater diversity in the profession so students can see themselves reflected at school. He recently joined his district’s diversity committee several years after deciding to come out to his students by talking about his husband on the first day of school.
“I wanted be an example to kids. I have students that are gay or transgender or dealing with gender issues and feeling isolated. My not talking about it was making it worse.”
What he loves most about teaching is not only the fun and challenge of finding creative ways to engage kids and teach difficult content. “I like teaching them how to be tolerant of each other and kind and caring. That’s often overlooked when we’re talking about standardized tests.
“Teachers have an amazing opportunity to help kids develop into good people and well-functioning adults.”