Hoping to Inspire Kaneland Students

It’s hard to find a teacher passionate about the mental and emotional health of their students just as much as they care about students’ education. The Kaneland School District has been lucky enough to have snatched a rare teacher like that: Lori Shroka. 

“The only reason I come to school is for [students],” Shroka says as we chat in the English office. “Even the curriculum we are teaching is not nearly as important as letting [students] know [they] have a safe place.”

Shroka shared the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher is when students email her years after she taught them. When a student emails me and asks, ‘Do you remember me?’

 “Of course I remember you.”

She goes on to say she is proudest when past students reach out to her; she feels there is nothing more rewarding than that. 

Shroka’s passion for her students is extremely obvious to those in her classes.

“She is very understanding and gets along really well with her students. She is very good at communicating with everyone,” sophomore Emma Trainor, a current student of Shroka, said.

Focusing on students’ mental and emotional health is intentional for Shroka as she teaches in the classroom every day. 

“When [Kaneland] focuses on the whole college, career and community ready thing, we forget the connection part, we forget the trust part, and being honest with [students].”

Shroka still has the same goals as Kaneland, to help students graduate college, career and community ready, and a few additional goals of her own. While she shares similar targets for her students, she has not always taught in the Kaneland district. Shroka taught in the Sandwich School District for three years as a special education teacher. During that time, Shroka realized while her passion was teaching, it was not specifically with special needs students. She moved over to the Kaneland School District in the 2002-03 school year. 

While at Kaneland, Shroka has taught a variety of subjects at both the middle school and high school. Shroka has taught different variations of English to 6-12 grade students, social studies, physical education and communication classes. She has taught in the Kaneland district for 19 years and has been a teacher at the high school for the last six. While at Kaneland, Shroka also had the privilege to be the head track coach. 

“I love track; it’s my passion and I’m really proud of the fact that I made it, as a woman, and became the head coach.”

Like every job, being a teacher can be stressful. Shroka’s way of dealing with the stress is working out. Her love of working out came from her father. As a child, Shroka would go to the gym with her dad. Growing up she was the oldest of four; she said her family was always very competitive so being the strongest or fastest was important. 

Shroka has many fond memories of her and her siblings growing up. When asked about her childhood, she spoke very highly of her family and their time together. 

“We’d go outside; there were four of us, and we’d play. We’d get on our bikes and just ride everywhere. In the summertime, we all got pool passes to the village pool; we were there every single day.” 

Shroka has two younger brothers, Brian and Joe, and a younger sister, Julie. 

“We are closer now than we were growing up. We were all very much into sports and band, and we were very competitive.” 

Shroka, being a varsity athlete for both volleyball and track, as well as being in the band, playing three instruments and playing intramural floor hockey, kept very busy in high school. As fun and exciting as all of that was, she preferred middle school. 

“I remember my middle school teachers, much more than my high school teachers. I loved my middle school English teacher. She was a huge inspiration for me.” 

Shroka always knew she wanted to become a teacher, however Miss Cronin, Shroka’s English teacher, was a huge part of the reason Shroka decided to pursue the career.

“She talked to us like we were people, not just kids. I felt like she wasn’t just a teacher who stood up in front of the room and just dictated to us, she was personable. I had a couple knee surgeries in middle school and I was really getting into track and she just talked to me about it. I remember her telling me, ‘You’re going to recover, you’re going to be fine,’ and I’ll never forget that. She was funny, and I still hope I can be the kind of teacher she was. She was just great.”     

Along with Miss Cronin, Shroka’s mother and grandmother also inspired her to become a teacher because they were both in education. Shroka’s grandmother was an unofficial teacher. Her grandmother never had an education degree, but she still taught others how to read. Shroka’s mother was an English teacher and track coach just like her daughter. 

Neither Shroka’s mother or grandmother are still teaching, however she still has a daily inspiration for her job. Shroka’s daughter, Jessica, is a special education teacher in Nashville.

 “Well, she’s amazing, because she’s mine. She warms my heart, the way she works with those special needs kids.”

Jessica originally got a degree in fashion merchandising and sports journalism but found her calling while working as a paraprofessional in Oswego. Despite some crazy interactions Jessica has had with her students, such as being bitten to the point of blood drawn and having her feet kicked out from under her, she loves her job and couldn’t be happier. Shroka is extremely proud of her daughter and everything she does.

Shroka is not only proud of her daughter, Jessica, but also of her son, Matthew. Matthew works with Shroka’s brother on Lake Michigan. Together they own a boat rental company, Chicago Boat Rentals. Education is not a priority for him, so while is still working on his associate degree, the business is his passion. Matthew plans to move to Miami next summer to expand and promote the business, along with working on getting his captain’s license. Just like his sister and mother, Matthew is also excellent with children. Before working for his uncle, Matthew wanted to become a pediatric pulmonologist. When Matthew was born, his lung had popped so he spent a lot of time with a pulmonologist. Remembering how scared he was, he wanted to help kids just like him.

With sports being a huge part of her life growing up, Shroka has found a love for the Chicago Bears and has gone all over the country to see them play. Some fond memories she has with her kids is taking them to see her favorite team play.

“I actually took my kids to London last year to see the Bears play.”

The Chicago Bears are a big part of Shroka’s life, just like traveling. Shroka has been not only all around the country but also to England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Wales, Greece and Italy. While COVID-19 has put a halt on her travels, Shroka still has goals to visit Croatia, Egypt, Germany, Amsterdam and the Maldives. 

“[I want to] go everywhere; anywhere I can go.”

Shroka, and her best friend, Geanie Richards, another teacher in the Kaneland School District, are currently planning a trip to Germany to visit World War I sites. Despite those current plans, Shroka would love to return to Italy and Greece, as they have been her favorite travel spots so far. She loves Greece so much that when I asked about any retirement plans, Shroka didn’t hesitate before answering with her dream to buy a place in Greece with Richards.

“I would go anywhere in the world with her, but I would like to fulfill our dream and buy a place in Greece where we could spend our summers together,” Richards said.

Shroka says she would love it if they could get a place in Greece and live there part-time and rent it out the other part of the time while traveling.

“More realistically, I like the Carolinas or Vail. Vail is my happy place. I either want to be in the mountains or on the beach. Not in a neighborhood anymore; in the mountains or on the beach.”

Once she has retired, Shroka can look back on a successful career that she loved. She can also reflect on the lasting impact she had on many students. As her middle school English teacher was once an inspiration to her, Shroka has no doubt been an inspiration to many of her students as well. With Shroka’s mindset of putting students first, along with striving to teach her students academically and for the health and well-being of her students, the impact she has made at Kaneland will leave a lasting effect.