It doesn't take a genius to figure out who Nancy Krasinski's hero is.
The walls of her gifted classroom are adorned with Albert Einstein posters and quotes, and Einstein novelty gifts -- a snow globe, "Einswine" the pig, and a portrait of the father of modern physics created with dominoes -- given to her by students are part of the decor.
Her love of science aside, Krasinski says Einstein's own struggles as a student when he was younger inspire her approach to teaching.
"It's my job to find the genius in every one of my students, and it might not always be in academic form," said Krasinski, an acceleration and enrichment teacher for reading and mathematics at Williamsburg Elementary School in Geneva.
"In his era, as a student, he pretty much was smarter than all of his teachers, and when you went to school then, you kind of got in trouble for being sassy to the teacher or being fidgety or bored," she said.
"He actually got kicked out of school for being a troublemaker and learning-disabled. Today's day and age, we look at learning and educating much differently."
Krasinski teaches the top 10 to 15 percent of gifted students at the school in third through fifth grades.
"What inspires me about working with the students is their total love of learning," she said. "My job really is to set a buffet out for them. I set out a variety of activities and they come and run with them. They come in premotivated. Staying one or two steps ahead of them is the challenge on a daily basis."
Krasinski, 59, of Elburn retires at the end of this school year after a 34-year career, mostly spent at Geneva Unit District 304. She started as a high school special education teacher for 11 years, taught fourth grade for 18 years, and has been part of the gifted education program for five years.
She also has helped many district teachers develop and enhance their practice, helping train them on inquiry-based learning.
Hers is not a typical classroom. On any given day, students can be found playing games, such as Pictionary, math Olympiads, in which they are asked to solve high level reasoning questions in a competition format and word challenges, or engaging in Socratic seminars. It's mostly student-driven instruction.
"I have taught the entire bell curve and one thing is true over all of that ... good teaching is good teaching," she said.
"Your job is to look at what your students know and inspire them to want to aspire. To me, it's the purity of teaching and inspiring without having a lot of the trappings of a classroom."
Krasinski has a humorous interaction style. Each day, she puts up a cartoon in the classroom, which students must decipher if they don't get its meaning.
She incorporates questioning strategies that challenge students to think deeply and ask well-formulated questions, and believes it's more important for students to know how to ask the right questions than to have all of the right answers. It's her goal to "teach students how to think rather than what to think," she said.
"I usually present the problem first with a smidgen more than what they already know. They've got to figure out how to piece their knowledge together to solve it," Krasinski said.
"The topic we are ending the year with is the rights and responsibilities of a global citizen, where they will be investigating what altruism is, what egoism is."
Students will be analyzing philosophical works on "why we exist, what our purpose is, and maybe exploring where they fall in that," she said.
As part of the exercise, a group of her students are investigating homelessness and will create an informative video about ways in which people can help through charities.
"On any given day, my goal is to make each one of these kids a little better than they were when they got here," Krasinski said.
"I like to teach from my heart, not from my head. You really have to be personable and energetic or you are not doing it well. They are going to remember how you made them feel, not what you taught them. So it's the culture of your class. The climate you set."