ADAMS TWP — Joe Joswiak was touched by the actions of his colleagues.
“We had a cafeteria worker facing some challenges in life and some teachers rallied together for help and support,” said Joswiak, a physical education teacher at Mars Middle School. “I was inspired by what they did.”
Little did he know, Joswiak — who has spent 31 years in his teaching position — has been rather inspiring in his own right.
Greg Wilson, a language arts teacher at Mars, has known him for years.
“I've known Joe for 20 years,” Wilson said. “We're both big Pittsburgh Pirate fans. My kids belong to the Bucaroos Club and we get a lot of emails from that.”
One of those emails concerned the Pirates' “All-Star” Teachers program. The program — through combined work of the Pirates, Pirates Charities, Chevron and The Grable Foundation — recognizes area educators for exceptional classroom efforts and positive impact on students.
Wilson believed Joswiak deserved to be nominated — and Joswiak was selected as one of 18 winning teachers from more than 200 nominees covering 11 counties in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
“At some point, half of the kids who come through this middle school are taught by Joe,” Wilson said. “My students were working on something in class and I was working on the nomination application.
“I got some feedback from them as I was writing about Mr. J.”
In addition to his teaching, Joswiak has coached every sport at Mars except golf and tennis. Ten years ago, he applied for a grant for spinning bikes for the students, faculty and staff at Mars. He received that grant and the middle school now has a state of the art spinning room.
An adviser for middle school intramurals activity, Joswiak takes a group of students to an off-site athletic activity twice a month. He introduces them to bowling, miniature golf, tennis, corn hole, etc., so they can develop a lifelong sport.
“He is just really focused on people and strives to be a whole person,” Wilson said. “The kids love him because he cares about them. He develops positive relationships.”
Also a member of the school safety committee, Joswiak helps ensure safe conditions for working and learning at Mars. He teaches a health unit to seventh and eighth graders and gets students in those grades to write letters to seniors encouraging them not to smoke, vape, do drugs or drink alcohol.
In eighth grade, students write letters to their future selves that they receive before senior prom encouraging them to be safe.
“I had no idea any of this was going on,” Joswiak said of the nomination and award process. “They set up a surprise assembly that I thought was going to be about safety.”
While 16 of the “All-Star” teachers received their awards through a surprise virtual online presentation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Joswiak was one of two teachers able to receive his during a live assembly.
“Somebody told me a van pulled up and a bunch of Pirate players got out,” Joswiak said. “I thought they were part of our safety message to the kids.”
Instead, he discovered the assembly was for him.
Joswiak received a $1,000 classroom grant, a Pirates jersey, a $100 gift card, certificate to display in the classroom and an invitation to be recognized during an on-field pregame ceremony at PNC Park.
He lost out on the latter.
“I was going to be one of five teachers recognized on the field before the April 5 game with the Dodgers,” Joswiak said. “We were getting a private suite to watch the game from ... It would have been fun.
“Just being recognized like this ... Every teacher should get to enjoy a moment like I had at that assembly. It was fantastic.”
Joswiak's wife, Melissa, and daughter, Bristol — a student at Eden Christian — were brought in for the surprise assembly as well.
“Joe totally deserved every bit of it,” Wilson said. “I look at him as a role model, a mentor. He's just what a teacher ought to be.”