Mott teacher receives Mel Miller award

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published January 12, 2018

 Warren Mott High School mathematics teacher Tim Kovacs was chosen to receive this year’s “Rise Beyond the Horizon” Mel Miller Memorial Award.

Warren Mott High School mathematics teacher Tim Kovacs was chosen to receive this year’s “Rise Beyond the Horizon” Mel Miller Memorial Award.

Photo provided by Warren Consolidated Schools

WARREN — Warren Mott High School’s Tim Kovacs’ job title reads “math teacher,” but he brings so much more to the classroom.

According to Mott Principal John Dignan, Kovacs “is a tireless worker who has passion for working with young people” and “is guided by a social justice compass.”

“Tim cares about the students he has worked with and advocates for their needs,” Dignan said in a prepared statement. “He believes in ‘doing the right thing’ no matter how difficult that may be in the short term. He respects students, parents, guardians and colleagues, and encourages others to be the best they can be.”

Because of these attributes, Kovacs was chosen to receive this year’s “Rise Beyond the Horizon” Mel Miller Memorial Award. A reception for Kovacs to be recognized was scheduled for Jan. 15 — after the Warren Weekly went to press — at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Dakota High School in Macomb Township. The Interfaith Center for Racial Justice sponsored the event. Warren Mott is part of Warren Consolidated Schools.

The Mel Miller Award, named after former Macomb Intermediate School District consultant Mel Miller, was created to annually recognize a K-12 teacher for “serving as an advocate for social change by bringing to the classroom extraordinary practices that help students understand, analyze and make decisions that promote positive social interactions.” The theme of the award is to recognize diversity and teach global citizenship in the spirit of understanding, tolerance, acceptance and goodwill. Miller, who died in September 2006, was a social studies consultant for the MISD for 22 years.

“It’s humbling,” Kovacs said of the recognition. “We have a school filled with talented, passionate, caring people that go the extra mile on a daily basis. There are so many people that care.”

Kovacs, a 1991 graduate of Warren High School, has been teaching for 20 years. For most of that time, Kovacs taught upper-level and advanced courses. Currently, he teaches three trigonometry classes, one regular section of algebra and two English as a second language sheltered math classes.  

Students in the sheltered math classes have moved from other countries to the U.S. within the last three years. Most students are from Vietnam, Bangladesh, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Some speak English, while others do not or speak broken English.

“We do some screening to determine the student’s abilities, levels, strengths and weaknesses,” Kovacs said.

Multilingual aides in class assist with the language translations between Kovacs and the students. Sometimes the students have not been in school for a while before coming to the U.S.

Because math is “somewhat of a universal language,” Kovacs said, “students can watch and observe.”

While math is the focus of the class, the students also get an education in other ways.

“I try to help them assimilate and give them a general sense of belonging,” Kovacs said. “We find out we have common interests. They feel connected.”

He always wanted to teach. Coaching sports also was an ambition.

“I had really good teachers and coaches,” said the Sterling Heights resident, who currently coaches cross country at Sterling Heights High School. For Kovacs, the most rewarding part of teaching is watching his students succeed. He believes all students can be successful.

“I think you have to be able to define success,” he said. “Not every person gets to the same spot. You have to structure things in a way where students can achieve a little bit of success at a time and gain some confidence.”

Kovacs graduated from Wayne State University in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education, and from Saginaw Valley State University in 2004 with a master’s degree in educational leadership.