Jana Forck prays for her students every day.
“For some of them, it’s a particular situation that they’re dealing with, and I take that to God,” she said.
“For others,” she said, “it’s for them to have a good solid place where they feel comfortable, because some of them don’t come from good backgrounds.
“And for some, I pray that they get a good meal and are fed well that day and that their general needs are being met.”
Mrs. Forck, a member of St. Francis Xavier parish in Taos, teaches at Jefferson City High School.
She was honored this spring with the Jefferson City Public Schools’ 2018 Eisinger Teacher of the Year Award.
Having taught some of the highest- and some of the lowest-level math classes in the district for over a quarter-century, she works to instill in her students a sense of wonder at the order of the Universe and the beauty of creation.
“There is a lot of beauty reflected in math and in nature in general,” she said. “Everything God has created has some mathematical relationship to it.”
Mrs. Forck believes teaching is a holy profession.
Her years in the classroom, bolstered by strong support from her family and her Church community, continue to make her hopeful for the future.
“There’s really a lot of good in this world and we just need to be able to help our students and bring it out in them,” she said.
She believes in reaching out to every student who walks through her classroom door “as if he or she were my own child.”
She’s not allowed talk about or persuade students toward religion.
“But if I treat them like my own children, I hope that they can see that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and that I believe that with all of my being,” she said. “By treating them in that way, I hope they will know about my faith.”
She is allowed to talk about faith in private with people who ask her about it outside of a classroom setting.
People who know her know she goes to Mass usually on Saturday evening. This comes up because students often ask her to attend extracurricular events.
“I want to go, but if it conflicts with church, I tell them that,” she said.
Drawn toward being Catholic
Mrs. Forck went to Jefferson City High School (JCHS). Her parents are members of separate Protestant denominations, and her grandfather was a Protestant minister.
“When I met Kenneth, my husband, and we got engaged, I knew that I wanted to go to church as a family,” she said. “So I went through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and became Catholic before we got married.”
Being around Mr. Forck’s family helped convince her.
“There are nine brothers and sisters, and to be candid, there’s not a bad one in the bunch,” she said. “All the grandkids are amazing. I would take any of them with me.
“So I would say I was drawn,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t go wrong becoming Catholic after being around the Forck family.”
Her parents supported her decision, happy that she was intent on staying faithful to Christ.
Playing the field
Mrs. Forck said the Math Department at Jefferson City High School has always been a close-knit band of strong educators.
“So even when I was in high school, some of the math teachers that I had drew me to considering that as an occupation,” she said.
She was also involved in sports and knew she could combine those two loves as a teacher and a coach.
At JCHS, she coached freshman girls’ basketball and served as assistant varsity softball coach, becoming friends with the head coach.
“One day, we were out running around together and we stopped out at her mom and dad’s house at Taos,” Mrs. Forck recalled.
After meeting her friend’s brother, she asked, “Hey, is he dating anybody?”
“That’s how I met my husband,” she said.
From mom to explorer
Mrs. Forck teaches calculus and some pre-engineering classes to high-achieving students at JCHS.
For 26 years, including a year as a teacher in Sedalia, she also taught the lowest-level math classes at the school. Bridging those extremes involved a total change of mindset each day.
“The lower level required what I would call a little more ‘mom’ from me, just trying to convince them and help them get through what needs to get done and really celebrating their successes, to try to build that confidence,” she said.
She said helping them relax, smile “and have a bit of fun with it” went a long way.
For those who enjoy math and are good at it, “you have to make sure that you allow them to explore a little bit,” she said.
This year, she had a group of students who loved to “play with numbers.”
“Some of the things they came up with (last) year made my jaw drop,” she said. “It was neat to see them growing like that and how their brains work.”
Skills for life
Mrs. Forck hopes that people who complete her classes come away as better problem-solvers.
“That might be math, depending on what they do, but also in any other aspect of their life,” she said. “It may be that I showed them how to think about things logically, so that when they walk out of my door, whatever problem or situation hits them, they can stop and think through things step-by-step and help themselves through it.”
She enjoys hearing back from former students and knowing that she helped them learn something.
“It’s not something you hear on a daily basis,” she said. “A lot of time, it’s after they graduate and have a bigger picture of life that they’ll come back and thank you.”
Some students drop by school just to visit. Others e-mail her to ask questions about college-level math.
One walked up to her and gave her a hug last year at Jefferson City’s Fourth of July Salute to America celebration.
“He thanked me for getting him to like math and helping him understand it,” she said. “He said his job now involved a lot math.”
Beyond the classroom
She enjoys attending sporting events, student concerts or other activities where students get to exhibit their life’s passion.
“You try to make your schedule work so you can watch them participate in something they love,” she said. “Getting to know them outside of the classroom helps you build a relationship with them, and it gives you something to talk about besides classwork.”
She also works toward forging a strong bond with parents early on, so they’re comfortable discussing their son’s or daughter’s progress with her.
She said she’s still learning from her students.
“I’ve learned not to rely much on first impressions,” she said. “Students will just surprise you with good things, what they can do and what I as a teacher can pull out of them effort-wise.
“So they’re teaching me to just sit back a little bit and get a feel for what they can do so that I can help them reach their potential,” she said.
They also keep her grounded in the understanding that “there is still a lot of good in this world.”
She finds that her students are more willing to trust her and cooperate with her when they realize that she’s interested in what they’re interested in and what excites them.
District officials asked Mrs. Forck’s sister-in-law, Linda Heckman, who’s also a teacher in the district and received the award in the early 2000s, to find a way to get Mrs. Forck’s family to the award dinner without spoiling the surprise.
“I think they said this was the biggest family group they’ve had for this event,” said Mrs. Forck.
When she mentioned to her sister-in-law that she was going to be interviewed for this article, her sister-in-law said, “you would have made Mom and Dad’s refrigerator.”
That’s where the late Jim and Delores Forck would display newspaper clippings of their children’s and grandchildren’s accomplishments.
“She talked about how proud they would be,” said Mrs. Forck.
As a new school year approaches, Mrs. Forck asks for prayers for her and her fellow educators.
“We all need patience, to allow us to be Christ-like, to step back in those tense situations and take a deep breath and think about Christ and what He would do,” she said.
“We need that strength and knowledge to deal in those situations with the children and make good things happen, even out of bad situations.”