Cavalier enlightens students with unconventional teaching methods

Hannah Corvin walked into her first period AP biology class to see teacher Mr. Zach Cavalier sending blue flames across the lab tables. But Corvin was not surprised by the sight.  Her eccentric and unconventional teacher was attempting to sterilize the tables for an experiment the students were conducting during that class period.

“I walked in and there were flames across the tables,” said Corvin, describing a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno. “It looked like hell.”

Mr. Cavalier continued to smear alcohol on the tables as he lit each one on fire. This was one of several incidents demonstrating an aspect of Mr. Cavalier’s personality that makes him different from the rest of the faculty and staff of Southmoreland High School.

Mr. Cavalier grew up in Scottdale, where he went to Southmoreland High School and graduated in 1998. His high school biology teacher, Mike Pelechko, influenced him in his studies in college.

“With almost no exceptions, I had great teachers in high school.  At the very least I was able to learn something from their class,” said Mr. Cavalier. “In one case though, I had a teacher that believed that they were correct no matter what…even when they weren’t.  I try to never be like that person; we all can learn new things.”

“My favorite teacher, “Doc” Polechko, had a way of teaching that was really a good fit for how I learned,” said Mr. Cavalier.  “Real conversational.  I always enjoyed that class. Turns out, my biology professors in college were similar. It must be how biologists are. Ha!”

Mr. Cavalier was originally supposed to obtain his degree from the Naval Academy, under a scholarship for his football skills. The second to last football game of his senior year against the Mount Pleasant Vikings, Mr Cavalier tore his ACL, which essentially changed the course of his entire life. The Naval Academy no longer had a need for him on their football because of the ACL injury, so he picked Bethany College in West Virginia as his school of choice instead. This is where he met his wife.

He completed his teaching degree at Bethany College in West Virginia and graduated in 2002. After graduating college, he went on to substitute teaching at Southmoreland junior high in the fall of 2002. Over the years, he has taught physical science, life science, biology, advanced placement biology, anatomy, wildlife, and integrated physical science.

Cavalier’s wife, Amy, and his two children, Laurel, and William play a huge part of Mr. Cavalier’s life. He hopes and dreams for his children is that one day they will be happy in whatever they may choose to do with their lives. He hopes they choose a career path that allows them to develop strong friendships and allows them to have a family.

“My daughter wants to work for NASA right now and that would be cool,” said Mr. Cavalier. ” Whatever they wanna do that makes them happy.”

Mr. Cavalier said his parents influenced the person he is today, and he said they made him follow through with his sports and activities, which taught him the value of commitment and responsibility.

Many teachers have a defining career event that shaped them into the teacher they are today, and Cavalier’s happened to be his student’s reactions to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. His students were relying on him to direct their response because they were terrified something would strike them. He realized how much responsibility he had to these kids, to inform them the proper way in what was occurring.

“Teenagers during that generation had never experienced anything like that before,” said Mr. Cavalier. “I found it humbling in a sense, seeing just how much these adolescents depended on me for answers. Teachers can give advice that someone can use for the rest of their lives.”


About Lauryn Lubecki
Student council president, varsity cheer captain, class secretary

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