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After a year teaching in Alaska, Joliet educator comes to classroom closer to home

Counter helping student
Posted at 4:53 PM, Sep 12, 2023

After a year of teaching in Alaska, John Counter has returned to Joliet schools as a science teacher.

The 32-year-old is teaching science at both the middle and high school level this year and said that there's nothing better than when a student makes progress.

"Seeing those moments where students are just getting it and understanding it is incredible," Counter said. "It's those rewarding feelings that make this job worth it."

Mr. Counter helps student

Counter got into teaching a little later than most. Originally, Counter was working in retail, but he said he discovered his passion through coaching.

"I had helped coach a little and then I got to be co-AD and be around sports and students," Counter said. "That was kind of my introduction into all of this."

His teaching career began in Columbus, where Counter grew up, and eventually he found his way to Joliet. Last year, he accepted a unique opportunity to teach in Anchorage, Alaska.

"It was more, for me, like the 'What if?'" Counter said. "Like what if I'm wanting to go to Alaska and try that and see what it's like?"

Joliet Principal Mandi Hernandez said that losing Counter was tough, especially amidst a statewide teacher shortage, but that the school was supportive of his decision.

"I feel like we've definitely felt (the shortage), but we're fortunate now to be fully staffed," Hernandez said. "We were definitely bummed, but wishing him well at the same time."

Mandi Hernandez

Hernandez, who was Co-AD with Counter before his move to Alaska, said that his decision was understandable given the average teacher salary in Montana.

"We don't pay as much as Alaska or even Billings," Hernandez said. "You can't blame people when they take opportunities."

During that first year in Alaska, Counter started missing home.

"It was a great experience overall, and I think I'm a better teacher now because of that experience," Counter said. "It is more of, I got homesick. The 11:30 sunrise and the 3:30 sunset, it's pretty difficult to manage that."

Counter remained in contact with Hernandez throughout the year, and when she started sensing unhappiness she did her best to do a little convincing.

"A lot of conversations, a lot of messages, and a lot of remember how good it is here," Hernandez said with a smile.

To her excitement, the persuading paid off and Counter is back in the halls and classroom at Joliet.

Mr. Counter teaching class

"He brings a lot of passion and a lot of energy and that's really what we appreciate the most," Hernandez said. "He's always willing to take on new challenges and try teaching classes even when they're out of his comfort zone, and that's a big asset for a small school."

For Counter, he's thankful for his time in Alaska, but his happy to be back in a community that has accepted him from the very start of his teaching career.

"I've had great support here from the beginning just from my coworkers, my fellow teachers that are here," Counter said. "We just have a really solid staff that I'm happy to be a part of."