History in the Making: Angela Tzortzis

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History in the Making: Angela Tzortzis

Social studies teacher and Niles West alumni Angela Tzortzis.

Social studies teacher and Niles West alumni Angela Tzortzis.

Social studies teacher and Niles West alumni Angela Tzortzis.

Social studies teacher and Niles West alumni Angela Tzortzis.

By Benedith Nano, Staff Contributor

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The third floor at Niles West is chaotic. Once the bell rings, the hallways are teeming with life, shouts, and laughter, which continue in the classrooms. It is swarmed with unruly freshmen. For most, the thought of teaching these freshmen seems overwhelming. 

For Niles West alumna and social studies teacher, Angela Tzortzis, teaching incoming freshman is a good balance between the school and her. Tzortzis has been teaching at West for 17 years and would not want it any other way.

“I seriously love being in the classroom. It’s because of the kids. Adults are okay, but the kids are the best part,” Tzortzis said.

Working at a new building for a first-time teacher is always stressful. The unfamiliar classrooms and the wandering halls make it difficult to find your way around a new school or building. However, Tzortzis didn’t go far from her roots as she began working at her old high school.

“I got hired as a traveling teacher between here and Niles North. It was a good fit. Social studies has always primarily been a male-heavy department and I think I was a good fit in a sense that they were looking for some balance. This was the place I felt that I could almost immediately begin doing a good job,” Tzortzis said.

Already familiar with the large melting pot and school atmosphere that is Niles West, Tzortzis felt right at home working with her old teachers and new colleagues.

“I didn’t have to learn the culture and understand the student body. I didn’t have to understand what makes this place unique. I was able to just get to work,” Tzortzis said. “In the first five years of teaching, you don’t know who you are as a teacher yet. For me, it was one less thing that I had to learn — the place and the people.”

The sense of familiarity with the school gave her a sense of ease during her first few years of teaching. And when she began teaching, Tzortzis was hit with a bit of nostalgia, as she passed by the same hallways and classrooms she knew and remembered when she was a student herself. The diverse population of Niles West was not new to her, she enjoyed working in such a diverse community.  

“When I was in high school, the level of diversity was the same at Niles West. But it was just a different group of kids. Growing up in Lincolnwood — at the time — I didn’t know it was such a unique experience. Most people live in a homogenous world, where everyone looks, acts, thinks the same way you do. In this community, that’s not the case. Everybody brings something interesting to the table and I think that this community is accepting and more open. It’s a very cool layer that makes us unique,” she said.

Teaching history to a group of rambunctious freshmen was deemed difficult by most teachers. However, for Tzortzis, she believed that teaching freshman was the right fit for her as well as the freshmen body at West.

For senior Milton Guendica, his transition into freshman year was made easy with the help of the easy going and humor-filled Tzortzis.

“I feel like as a freshman, you really don’t what is coming at you. Freshmen need someone to teach them like they are partially still in eighth grade but transitioning into high school. It makes us get a partial sense of what the adult world is like,” Guendica said.

Her easy going and fun personality made her students feel welcomed at West, where she was able to incorporate fun and work in the same environment.

“My favorite thing about her class was the pizza parties after every unit. It made me feel like I could still be treated like a kid in a way, but still taking up the roles and responsibilities of a high school student,” Guendica said.

For her AP world history students, like former student and sophomore Kristine Hwang, her teaching style and clarity allowed for her students to gain a new perspective on the world and be prepared for their AP exams.

“After taking her class, my knowledge of history and the world has grown a lot. I think Mrs. Tzortzis has a great teaching style. She went into detail and explained things very thoroughly. She made sure it was a fun environment and learning experience,” Hwang said.

Combined with her passion for history and love for kids, teaching World History has allowed for incoming freshmen to enjoy and have a new perspective on history. Although retirement is not in Tzortzis’ to do list anytime soon, she has already envisioned what it would look like. For Tzortzis, she hopes to continue teaching in the years to come.

“I keep saying that I’m going to try something else and yet, every year and I’m still back at that seat,” Tzortzis said. “ I don’t know if I’ll stay forever in the high school setting. I might move on to a university level or work with student teachers — I really am passionate about the profession and passionate about history so I don’t see myself leaving education entirely.”

Her great passion for teaching and serving the community has given Tzortzis a deeper and better understanding of what it means to be a teacher. Her work at Niles West has given her a wider perspective on a melting pot community and even formed lifelong connections along the way.

“That’s the unique thing about the teaching profession. For most teachers, this is their career and you end up working with the same people for a really long time. Once they come, they never leave. We become a close-knit family,” Tzortzis said.