Local Teachers are Superheroes Too

Resilience and determination are well-known qualities of Italian Americans. Since the late 1800s when millions of Italians left behind everything they knew and embarked on a journey to America in search of the “American Dream,” Italians have proven that strength, tenacity and hope lead to prosperity, love and most of all – happiness. This year, as the world faces a great challenge, Italian Americans have again found it necessary to call on their resilience and determination to guide us through a pandemic. The frontline workers have become everyday superheroes. And, while we salute them, another group of superheroes has emerged. We welcome them into our homes each day, remotely of course. They create a sense of comfort and normalcy for our children provoking smiles, laughter and joy. They offer hope and a safe place for our children to continue to grow. Teachers are also our superheroes.

Laura Zaleski is a first-grade teacher at Seton Catholic School in Hudson, OH. Laura is one of those teachers her students never forget. She makes learning fun, every day. To Laura, her students are superheroes. In fact, her students regularly earn their superhero cape (they come in all colors!) for completing great schoolwork, exhibiting good behavior and shining God’s light. Like all teachers, however, Laura has had to adjust her teaching methods from a very hands-on approach to a completely hands-off method. 

La Gazzetta Italiana (LGI): Where in Italy is your family from?

Laura Zaleski (LZ): Both sets of my great-grandparents were from Campobasso. My grandparents all came to the Collinwood area of Cleveland when they were young.

(LGI): During this pandemic, you have had to completely overhaul your entire teaching methodology and create an online learning environment for your students. What has been the most difficult part of that? 

(LZ): The classroom environment is essential to our learning. The way my “Firsties” respond to each other, the way they encourage each other and the way they learn from each other cannot be replicated online. It is difficult for the students because they do not get immediate feedback when they are practicing their learning. They cannot be inspired by each other; they cannot build upon each other's ideas and they can't cheer for each other when they are at home working independently. So much of what we do is interactive, hands-on and responsive. It is also difficult for me to pray into a computer screen. The worst part is not seeing their beautiful faces and hearing their sweet voices every day. 

(LGI): What have you, yourself, learned from remote learning? 

(LZ): Besides the fact that I REALLY want to get back to my classroom? I had to learn a good deal of technology and I also discovered a plethora of resources that are readily available. I learned that my students are very resilient and can handle anything. That applies to their families, as well. None of us asked to be in this situation, yet we banded together and faced the challenges together.

(LGI): What do you miss most about being in the classroom? 

(LZ): My fabulous Firsties! Their giggles and their questions and their squirming! Their faces when they learn something new, when they hear a joke, when they are applauded by their peers. 

(LGI): How have your students adjusted to the new teaching model? 

(LZ): They adjusted very well. They are so much more adaptable than adults, I believe. Plus, technology isn’t new to them. They also trust us and know that above all, our number one job is to keep them safe.  I know the most difficult part for them was not being together with their friends. 

(LGI): Is there anything from remote learning that you will apply to classroom learning in the future? 

(LZ): Definitely! A great deal of trial and error happened over these past weeks. I enjoyed being pushed out (well ejected, actually) of my comfort zone and challenged to do something different, something new. We ask our students to do it all the time. Why shouldn’t the adults embrace that feeling as well? 

(LGI): Do you have a favorite teaching memory from this time? 

(LZ): I loved when the Zoom meetings looked and sounded just like we were in our classroom: friends talking at the same time, peals of laughter, lots of movement, and kind words spoken. Sharing favorite books, what we did over the weekend, how to solve a math problem. Plus, an occasional poop, butt or fart reference. We are in First Grade, after all. 

This journey hasn’t ended yet. I pray that we are all healthy and back in our seats this fall. 

Luca Lanzilotta teaches Italian at Dickenson College in Carlisle, PA. He has degrees in education from the University of Pisa and in Italian from Middlebury College. At Dickinson, Professor Lanzilotta teaches beginner and intermediate Italian language courses and coordinates the activities for the Italian Department and the Italian Club. His research interests focus on second language acquisition and Italian/American Studies. Professor Lanzilotta regularly refers students to La Gazzetta for writing internships – and we love it!

(LGI): Where in Italy are you from? 

(LL): I was born and raised in Florence, but my family is originally from the Apulia region.

(LGI): What have you found difficult in the remote learning environment? 

(LL): When teaching online, it's hard to make the students as passionate about the language and culture. They also get less practice with their speaking skills.

(LGI): What have you, yourself, learned from remote learning? 

(LL): I learned that taking online classes is something completely different. I now have an even stronger appreciation for a college like mine where, normally, there are no online classes.

(LGI): What do you miss most about being in the classroom? 

(LL): I miss the interactions with the students. I also miss their visits to my office, even just to say hi and catch up. Also, when I teach online the students are more passive than they are in the classroom.

(LGI): How have your students adjusted to the new teaching model? 

(LL): Some of them, particularly the most organized ones, did well. Some struggled a bit, especially those who have a harder time creating their own routine without a set schedule.

(LGI): Do you have a favorite teaching memory from this time during remote learning? 

(LL): After a week of online teaching, one of my best students told me that he felt like he was not having enough practice speaking Italian, so I suggested that we Facetime once a week for 10-15 minutes to have some casual/informal chats. And that's what we did!

Overall, I really enjoy teaching in the classroom and I can't wait to go back to that!