Teacher stories 7: “People learn from stories”

Today, I am
sharing Celeste Angelo’s story. She teaches fifth grade at Huth Road Elementary
School in Grand Island, New York. This is the seventh story in my series about
teachers, their work, the things that they share with their students, and the
things that bring them joy.
I understand that teaching was not your
first career. Tell me about your career path.
Many years ago,
I attended the State University of New York at Buffalo. I thought that I was
interested in education or law. The year that I went there was the year that
they dropped the education program. I graduated with a degree in psychology. I
loved being a psych major. I loved how people learn. I am fascinated by people.
My favorite class was child psychology. I’ve always loved kids. During that
time, day care was becoming very popular. I wanted to own a day care center. I
had come from a family that was always self- employed. Owning a day care
business all fit in with my love of kids and my desire to be a teacher. So I
immediately went on and got a masters in early childhood education, with the
intent of opening a day care center.
But life has
twists and turns. While I was pursuing my masters  I had job in sales. I sold fundraising to
schools. Then I became the manager of the Niagara Falls Racquetball club for
four years. During that time, I got married. My husband and I stated an auto
wholesale business, where I worked for 15 years. My husband would buy the cars.
We painted and transported them and sold them to auctions. We had 30 employees
so we had a pretty big business. I drove the cars and was the jack of all
trades. While I was doing that, our four children came along. I was a room mom
at Huth Road Elementary School. My heartstrings were getting pulled back to my
original goal in life, which was to work with kids. I found out that all I had
to do was student teach. I had a masters. I did that. When my youngest children
(a set of twins, brother and sister) entered kindergarten in 1994, I got a
teaching job. I was hired to teach fourth grade in the City of Tonawanda. I was
so happy. It was what I wanted to do my whole life! The next year, a second grade
job opened up at Huth. I interviewed and I got it. This is my 22nd
year at Huth Road School. All of my children were in this school.
When I got my
job at Huth Road school, the twins were at Sidway. The other kids were in third
and fifth grades.
How long have you lived in Grand Island?
Did you attend Grand Island schools?
I moved in Grand
Island when I was in seventh grade.
What grades have
you taught at Huth Road School?
I have taught
all of the grades here at Huth Road. This is my eighth year teaching fifth
grade.
What do you like about teaching fifth
grade?
I love fifth
grade. You can talk to the students, and they understand. You can talk about
things in the world. You can talk about politics, natural disasters, or other
events. Here’s where I bring my background into the classroom. I talk to them
about what it takes to be successful because I come from the business world.
They understand hard work and taking responsibility and ownership and they get
my jokes. I let them know that you have to be motivated. You have to be willing
to work hard. You have to be reliable. You have to be responsible. I teach them
this through all the things that I have seen and experienced for all of these
years. I continually tell them stories about cars that weren’t repaired
correctly and just things that they can understand. They like stories. People
learn from stories. I have many stories. The greatest thing is that they come
back from middle school. They walk into the classroom and they say, everything
that you told us is true! We’re having a great year. It is so rewarding.
Having taught
all of those grades and having my own children, I know where they are going and
where they are coming from. It helps me to be a stronger teacher to have taught
all of those grades. You see an increase in vocabulary, a willingness to tackle
lengthier and more comprehensive books. I once had a third grader tell me, ‘I
don’t do chapter books.’ Yes, you do chapter books in third grade. That’s
what is so fun. Three years is like eons… to see the growth and to know. My
children are through college. I know what they have to do as high schoolers and
in college. Having my own children go through college has given me an
awareness. That’s only eight years from now. You’re going to be in college. Do
your homework! The kids have older brothers and sisters, and they see. In eight
years, you will drive a car. . They understand that. My hope is that you have
the kind of life that I have. I have choices because I worked hard in school
and in college. I took responsibility and now I have a great life. I have the
job I wanted and went to the college I wanted. That’s all I want: for you is to
have choices, to do what you want them to do. That resonates with them.
What do you see as challenges for fifth
graders?
Social media is
a huge challenge for students. I have empathy/sympathy for their parents. The
kids are so savvy. They spent an inordinate amount of time with social media,
to the detriment of school work and of reading. They are cognizant of the
things that kids say about them on social media. I have to resolve problems
that happened outside of the classroom because of social media. We talk about
being responsible. Pictures on snapchat do not disappear. You are leaving a
digital footprint. Kids say, “Everyone has to have a cell phone.” No. Everyone
does not have to have a cell phone.
When you aren’t teaching, what do you
like to do?
I have all
kinds  of hobbies. I love sports. I’ve
played sports my whole life. I have a volleyball game tonight. My husband and I
are big boaters. I water ski. I snow ski. I cycle. I love music. I played cello
through college and beyond. I attend a dozen concerts a year. I like all music.
Classical, pop… I like it all. We like to travel. We went skiing in Lake
Tahoe last year. We are going on a cruise in a couple of weeks. I explored a
cave in Belize. I showed the kids pictures, and they were amazed. I went to Las
Vegas last year to go to Corvette driving school. I read. I have fun with
vegetable gardening. I have a lot of fun. I get to visit my kids who are all
over the world. I have a daughter in London, trying to start a business. My
daughter in New York City is working for a startup. The company vets women to
serve on corporate boards. Big corporations pay people (minorities) to be on their
boards. I met Gloria Steinem and other big powerful women. My daughter in South
Carolina, gave me my first granddaughter, Waverly. She is the best. Six months
old. My son is local. He is finance.
What can parents do to support their
children?
They have to
allow their children to make mistakes. They to allow their children to fail and
to stop rushing to their rescue. It is a very hard thing to do because we don’t
want our children to struggle. That’s where learning occurs. You learn from
your mistakes. I don’t believe that everyone gets a trophy. You earn what you
get. That’s where the reward comes in, knowing that you worked hard and you
achieved. I’m constantly using sports analogies in my classroom because I love
sports. On Monday (February 6th),  we talked about the Superbowl. The Patriots were
down and out and no one expected them to come back.  Tom Brady never lost hope; he never gave up
and he was rewarded because of that attitude.
When kids run to
parents and say, “I don’t get this,” ask questions. Ask: “what did you get?”
Your second question: “tell me what you didn’t understand.” You have to
verbalize the part that you don’t get. Then they will say, “oh, I get it.”
Parents want to rescue them and make it easy for them. By giving kids too much
help, it hinders them. We are trying to create kids who are outside the box
thinkers. Parents need to talk to their kids, not talk at them, engage them in
meaningful conversations. Take them places and talk to them about the experiences.
What did you learn there? Let them see your mistakes and how you go about solving
your mistakes. So when your car breaks down, explain to them how to solve that
problem. When you run out of an ingredient, what can you substitute? There are
so many ways to show children that life is full of bumps in the road and how we,
as adults, handle those bumps in the road.
Do you run any after school clubs?
I have the
homework club, which allows kids a quiet space to work on their homework, and I
provide a little support if they need it. We are a very eclectic group. There
is a variety of ages and experiences.
What brings you the most joy as a
teacher?

It’s that moment
when you see the aha look on their face, when they come up to you and say, “I
didn’t understand this last year but now I really understand it.” When you see
them feeling so proud because they got it. Being at this school because of the
wonderful camaraderie with all of my colleagues. I’ve always felt supported by
everyone in this building. I think that’s what makes Huth Road such an
interesting place. We come to school and we laugh at each other, with each
other, and that shows you what a secure place it is. It it is for teachers, students,
parents. I follow kids’ careers as they grow up. I’m really invested in them.
They know that. I care about them.

2 thoughts on “Teacher stories 7: “People learn from stories””

  1. I loved my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Levine. I bet I would have loved Mrs. Angelo, too. By the way, your post made me think of Mrs. Levine so I did an internet search and found a fantastic blog written by a woman who went to both my elementary and junior high school. She later became a teacher. Small world. And you made it all possible. (I'm not making this up, either.)

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