Paying It Forward
Published: January 1, 2007 | 5218th good news item since 2003
Griswold Middle School’s Tedeschi returns teacher’s favor with his current students
Thank goodness for Michael, Mrs. Larche, and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.
Without the trio, the Griswold School District might not have Brian Tedeschi, its 2007 Teacher of the Year.
“They were definitely three factors,” Tedeschi said recently, after being asked why he became a teacher. “Everything happens for a reason.”
In 1989, after graduating from the University of Connecticut with a psychology degree, Tedeschi got a substitute teaching job at Norwich Tech. It was only for the paycheck as he was waiting to hear whether the U.S. Navy would hire him as a civilian contract change analyst to help build nuclear submarines.
By the end of 1989, the Berlin Wall, the Western symbol of Communism, was being destroyed. The need to create more submarines to protect the country from communist states during the Cold War was not as great and Tedeschi’s chances of being hired by the Navy became slim.
So Tedeschi, the son of two retired teachers, was stuck as a substitute at a local technical high school and spent the remainder of the year teaching math.
That’s where Tedeschi met Michael, a belligerent and troubled senior who did not hide his contempt for math and the educational system. Tedeschi tutored Michael for the final three weeks of school.
Tedeschi remembered that he was once a D student in math. It was his high school math teacher, Mrs. Larche, and her unwillingness to let him fail that enabled him to bring his year average to a C+.
With Tedeschi’s help, Michael managed to bring his average to a C-. He passed and graduated on time.
That year of being a substitute changed Tedeschi’s career path. He’s now taught for 17 years, 11 of them in Griswold. He loves to go to work everyday, even if it does mean teaching temperamental seventh graders.
“I have a fondness for the craziness of pre-adolescence,” Tedeschi said. “One minute a student might be reciting the Pythagorean theorem and then the next minute he’s doing armpit farts. It’s zaniness.”
“They appreciate that you know the things they say and do don’t even make sense to them sometimes,” he said. “It’s how they learn to trust you.”
While he loves teaching, Tedeschi occasionally considers going back to school to become a marriage and family therapist.
“I see how they handle the adversity in their lives,” he said of some of his students. “Occasionally I like being able to let them know that it’s alright to get a C. You realize that there’s more important things that they’re dealing with than getting a C or D in school.”
When asked to share one story of a student he’ll always remember, Tedeschi said he recalls one girl who grew up taking care of her younger sister and mother.
“If her mom came home under the influence she would protect her little sister, take her to the neighbors. She was light years ahead in maturity but academically deficient,” he said. “She struggled and hated it but she showed up every day because she knew we cared.”
Tedeschi said he saw the girl recently. She smiled when she recognized him. She’d gone to an alternative high school, received her diploma and now wants to take college courses, he said.
“It was nice to see a kid that a lot of people gave up hope on and she somehow managed to overcome the odds and find herself in a good place,” he said.
In the end, the most important lesson Tedeschi wants his students to know is that he supports them.
“I want them to look back and say, ‘I didn’t always agree with you but you had my best interest in mind’,” he said.
The state and municipal Teacher of the Year program is not meant to identify the “best” teacher. It’s goal is to recognize and honor teachers who inspire their students and distinguish themselves from their peers.
Middle School Principal Preston Shaw said Tedeschi, a seventh-grade teacher, has the respect of his students and co-workers.
“He’s a very solid professional. He has a real good manner with the students. He can reach kids,” she said.