PIPER CITY, Ill. (WCIA) — A school district is welcoming back a math teacher from his army reserve tour in Afghanistan.
Major Todd Fatka was deployed on January 4 and returned home October 24. Tri-Point Upper Elementary/Junior High held a ceremony Monday morning to celebrate his return.
Students raised the American flag outside before reciting the pledge of Allegiance. The band then played the National Anthem and a patriotic salute to welcome Fatka, with band director Diane Perkins conducting.
“It’s exciting to welcome back a teacher that we’ve missed for so long,” Perkins said.
The band presidents, both eighth graders, said they were nervous about the performance.
“It warmed my heart because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s coming back after a year.'” Maddie Stites said. “I missed him so much.”
“I didn’t want to disappoint him,” Ewin Lintner said.
Fatka turned the tables on students and staff, using his time at the podium to recognize others for their hard work and good deeds while he was gone.
“I like recognizing people for the things that they’ve done, which is why I chose to do this in front of the whole school,” Fatka said. “I feel like it’s a great way for me to give back. They’ve done so much to support me while I’ve been gone, so I like to be able to recognize them in turn and I think it gives them a more personal connection to what I’ve been doing.”
Fatka said it will take a bit of time adjusting to a classroom again as he shifts from one form of service to another.
“I served as a teacher to help the next generation get to where they need to be, so when they go out in the world, they’re ready for it and to hopefully help make it better,” he said .”I served the nation to help keep it safe.”
Prior to his ceremony on Monday, Fatka surprised students on Halloween by dressing up in disguise and revealing his identity at the end of the day. Principal Jay Bennett shared video with WCIA of the moment students realized he was back.
“All the kids ran off the bleachers,” Bennett recalled. “It was no different than fans rushing the field.”