There are a few people in my life who I credit with helping to shape me into who I am today. I had the pleasure of interviewing one of them, Mrs. Calaiacovo. She was my Spanish teacher during my junior year at Medina High School. She is one of the reasons I ended up going to college to become a teacher in the first place. I really enjoy some the perspective that she brings as a veteran teacher. Up until now, most of my interviews have been with teachers who are relatively young in their teaching careers. I hope you enjoy Mrs. Calaiaovo’s wisdom as much as I did.
Erik – Can you give us a history of your teaching experience? Where have you worked and for how long? What you have taught?
L.C. – In 1993 after graduating from Toledo I taught at Medina Jr. High/Claggett Middle School for 5 years teaching Language Arts and Spanish. In 1998 I moved to Medina High School and have taught Spanish here since. Levels 1-3.
Erik – What is your favorite class that you have ever taught?
L.C. – I love teaching Spanish III. The kids know enough vocabulary that I can stay in the target language most of the time and we still teach Destinos, the Spanish soap opera. I like to teach grammar using “real world” situations from the drama to make it more meaningful for the kids.
Erik – Most of the teachers that I have interviewed so far have been very new to the profession. I’m excited to get the perspective of someone who has been doing it for a little bit longer. How do you keep things fresh year to year? What keeps you motivated?
L.C. – I never think that what I do is perfect; I always think there is room for improvement. How to get more repetitions, how to be more efficient, how to make things more engaging. That is what keeps me motivated: always striving to be better than the year before. Sometimes I get sick of teaching the same thing year after year so I try to change things up so it does not sound “tired” to my students.
Erik – Aside from the obviously stellar class of 2006, are there any students or years in general that are extremely memorable to you?
L.C. – Of course! We all have our favorite students. My favorites are the ones I really connected with and could talk to, and were not always stellar students. They were the fun kids who made class enjoyable. They were the ones who were energetic. Facebook is a great way to follow students who have graduated to see the amazing lives they lead. After 25 years of teaching some of my students have kids that are now in the school system here at Medina!
Erik – What are some of the craziest things that you’ve witnessed?
L.C. – Crazy to me is simply not caring. The crazy thing is that if kids would just put forth a little effort, they could do well. I don’t understand kids who don’t value an education, but I think a lot of that comes from home.
But I know you want bizarre: so a 7th grader picked up a desk and threw it across the room. I had a tile floor so it slid all the way across the room to the wall. He was angry about something silly. By the way he was in jail before he graduated from high school.
Erik – Aside from teaching, what other things are you involved in at the school?
L.C. – I am super involved in Student Council. It consumes my life! I have a passion for leadership training for teens and love working on projects with the kids. I have evolved StuCo into more of a service learning organization which has kept things new and exciting for me. I travel with my StuCo kids and take them to leadership workshops to help them with their leadership skills. I probably spend more time during the week doing StuCo things than Spanish things, and I spend a lot of time preparing for Spanish classes!
Erik – What things do you do outside of school?
L.C. – My favorite sport is volleyball and I play indoor and sand. I love doing classes at the rec center, walking, running, biking and spending time with my family and friends. I am not a TV watcher and rarely sit. I like to be out and moving.
Erik – One of the things you told me when I first started teaching was that sometimes you just have to “Close the door and teach.” It’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Can you elaborate on it? What are some of the specific ways that has applied to you over the years?
L.C. – There will always be distractions. The state expects so much, the district, your department, your principal, that it seems sometimes they all forget that we are here to teach kids. It is important to be able to shut out the drama and distractions and focus on your students and just work with them without being preoccupied with the other million expectations. My main job is to teach students Spanish. They don’t have to love Spanish, but I do expect them to try to learn. They know when a teacher is not “all in” and then they don’t put forth the effort.
Some times of year are harder than others. I try to remember when I have 97 things going on that I just need to close my door and teach and forget everything else for that 43 minutes.
Erik – With summer fast approaching (Well…fastish), do you have any big plans?
L.C. – I am taking a group of students (StuCo and Spanish) to the Dominican Republic for a service trip. We will be doing eco-tourism projects in the middle of the island. We were there in 2014 and I am excited to go back. My family will also be going to Ireland, a trip we have always wanted to take. My son graduates in May so we have all the grad festivities and parties. Volleyball and lots of working out, working on projects around the house and spending time with family will make a fast summer! I try to work on some school stuff a few days a week as well.
Erik – There are times when teaching is a simply exhausting profession. Aside from “Close your door and teach.” is there any other advice that you would give to a first year teacher?
L.C. – Time management is huge to me. As teachers we are pulled in so many directions and it can be overwhelming to try to keep up with it all. I don’t waste a minute. While my kids are working on their bell ringers/warm up activities, I do attendance, talk to kids that were absent the day before, grade a couple tests, answer an email. If we do a book exercise I tell the kids they have 90 seconds or 2 minutes, or whatever time I think it should take, then we go over it and move on. 43 minute periods can go by quickly and it is hard to teach everything without using all the time. Kids stay engaged when there is no time for chatting or waiting around. This also cuts down on discipline issues, which I think is a huge hurdle for first year teachers. Kids don’t have time to fool around because we constantly move from one activity to the next. Also, I try not to do any activity for too long so kids don’t get bored. 5-7 activities per class period keeps it fresh and makes time fly!
Erik – Do you remember any teachers in your life that made huge impressions or had a major impact?
L.C. – I had a speech teacher in high school that I just loved and she is the reason I majored in English/Speech. She was kind, understanding, fair and fun. I think we remember teachers who made us feel good, but we don’t necessarily remember their curriculum and lessons!