When the ‘right path’ leads back to the classroom
Chris Michael wants to be
remembered for more than
names and dates when students
move on from his eighth grade
social studies class at Cohoes Middle
School near Albany.
“I want them to remember me as
a caring human being who listened
to them, shared life advice and tried
to send them down the right path in
life,” said Michael.
“Anything else is a bonus.”
Former student John McKnight is
one of Michael’s success stories. His
life had started sliding off track following
his parent’s divorce when he
was in elementary school. Although
his single-parent father did the best
he could, long work hours, and tight
finances, took a toll.
McKnight found himself drifting.
He watched people close to him lose
their lives to drug addiction, started
hanging out with the wrong crowd
and school suspensions followed. “I
had to grow up really fast,” he said.
“I would go and talk to Mr. Michael
and he helped me view things in a
positive way and, to this day, that’s
still the way I am … he showed me that
he cared,” said McKnight. “I didn’t
have a lot of good in my life, but he
was like an older brother, that extra
person there to guide me.”
At eighth grade graduation,
McKnight and a group of his friends
dressed alike and took a picture
with Michael. McKnight also wrote
him a thank you letter. “I teared up
reading it,” Michael said, noting that
letters like that are why he went into
“It’s the most fulfilling job I’ve
ever had,” said the Cohoes Teachers
Association member. Although he’d
considered a career in education in
high school, he’d worked in journalism
and a family business before
becoming a teacher at 28.
McKnight and his friends sought
Michael out again for a photo at their
high school graduation. “We wanted
something to remember where we
came from,” McKnight said. “He
played a big role in how we grew up.”
Cohoes Middle School teacher Chris Michael celebrates his students’ graduation from eighth grade... and high school. Photos provided. From left in both photos: Josh Giller, Jordan West, Jacob Bowen, John McKnight and Ryan Sencer. McKnight is now studying to be a teacher himself.
After completing his freshman
year at SUNY Cortland, and dissatisfied
with an athletic training major,
McKnight did some soul searching.
He thought back to what helped
shape him into the man he is. He
realized it was teachers like Michael.
“I never thought I would be a teacher
… but now I try to remember all that I
learned from him,” he said. “Maybe
I can help students become who
they’re going to be.”
This fall, McKnight starts his senior
year majoring in physical education.
He looks forward to getting kids moving
every day. He also looks forward
“Becoming a teacher, I know that
I’ll be secure, which is really important,”
he said noting that having food
on the table each night wasn’t always
a guarantee growing up.
He knows that Michael’s influence
will guide him throughout his
career. “He’s a good role model,”
said McKnight. “When I’m a teacher, I
want my students to respect me, but
I also want them to feel like they can
come to me with a problem. I never
realized, until I looked back on it, how
much of an impact you can have on a
The admiration is mutual. At the
start of every school year, Michael
talks to his incoming students about
McKnight’s determination to succeed.
“I’m beyond proud of him,” he
said. “He’s going to be an amazing
Take a Look at Teaching
NYSUT launched its Take A Look at
Teaching initiative in the 2018–19
school year to strengthen teacher
recruitment efforts and elevate the
profession as a whole.
The effort features campus conversations,
and regional summits for students
and educators hosted by P–12
and higher education locals across
Another series of summits will be
held this school year. Locations include
Long Island, Tarrytown, Capital
Region and Southern Tier. For
more information, visit nysut.org/takealookatteaching.