At the beginning of the Spring semester in 2016, Michael Sinco was introduced to the students and staff of Chattahoochee when he replaced the abruptly retired Mrs. Vaughn. His arrival was met with mixed reviews, often extreme ones; you either loved him or you hated him. Before his time at Hooch, he taught many grade levels, ranging from sixth to twelfth, including AP World History, AP Human Geography and AP Psychology.
On the first day of his AP Psychology class, he told his students that although he knew very little about AP Psychology, he could teach it well enough for each of them to pass the AP exam and that if they were willing to put in a little work, achieve a five. When I asked him about this ambitious philosophy and if he approaches every class with it in mind, he explained that “the quality of students is so great here, that most students in my AP classes are capable of achieving the highest score on the AP exam. I am here to facilitate that success. I will believe in a student’s ability even before they have discovered it themselves.”
Clearly his confidence in teaching and the strategies he uses work—his AP scores reflect his success. His pass rates consistently exceed that of school, county and even state averages. I questioned him about his most effective teaching strategies, to which he replied “There are a host of different variables that go into motivation, but one that I consider key is classroom environment. If a student doesn’t enjoy class, desire to be there, feel comfortable there and find some interest in what’s being presented, then little of the information that is given in class will be absorbed.” As a student, all I can say is that’s the truth. If the class seems tired, or bored, he is known to suddenly yell part of a sentence, jump onto a desk or teach from laying down on the floor. Everyone pays attention then.
“Passion. I have never met an effective teacher that didn’t love what they do.” he responded when asked about the most important trait a teacher should possess. This characteristic most likely explains his success on AP exams, along with his idea that “one thing that we really fail to do as a society (in education) is to really emphasize the reason why doing your best and being a master of your craft is beneficial to each individual. People really want to make the best decisions for themselves, so tapping into that thought process is key.” In the classroom, he uses a multitude of incentives and recognition, such as food and the display of top scores, for doing well in order to reinforce good behavior. Among the many fun aspects of being a teacher, Sinco explained that his favorite is “making an impact. Whether it is in the classroom or out in the coaching arena, I feel my purpose in life is to help guide individuals through one of the most disruptive times of their lives. If I can help bring out the better in students through challenging them to be the best they can be, then I know that I have done something good. I love my job so much that if I won Mega Millions tonight, I would still be here tomorrow. I believe I have found my calling.”
I originally met Sinco not as an educator, but as a coach. I will never forget my race at Lambert, the 800 meter dash; I was in fourth or fifth place, but close behind the other girls. There was a third of the race left to go, and he told me that I could pass the girls in front of me. In the middle of my race, I had an epiphany—I actually could pass the girls in front of me. Not only did I finish in second place that day, I ran the best 800 time of my track and field career. Michael Sinco has won endless awards from the most high-achieving of students for being an effective educator. Evidently, he knows the key to being a successful teacher and coach: to make an impact on his students.