Efforts in classroom honored

Published: June 27, 2007 | 6403rd good news item since 2003

Education is a demanding profession made even more difficult by new state testing standards. But some Columbia High School teachers say it is all worth it.

Five teachers at the school received awards from various community groups last week. As a group they insisted they are nothing special. They believe success in their profession is more than just pushing students to get high grades and looking to get awards for themselves.

“We get to see the kids grow right in front of us year to year,” said Tara Maney. “For us that is such a high. That’s our real satisfaction, an incredible satisfaction.”

Maney teaches special education and was recognized by the YMCA in part for her work with students doing memorial tributes to Nick Pablo. Pablo was a Goff Middle School student when he was hit and killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike in August 2001 in Clinton County. He would have graduated from Columbia High School this year.

“Kids naturally want to help other people, and all you have to do is open the doors for them,” Maney said.

Peter Zilgme teaches social studies. He was recognized by the district’s teachers union for leadership and motivating the most resistant kids.

“You come in here and perform the best you can and help the difficult kids, but then you realize the energy to make everything work comes from them,” Zilgme said. “There are no bad kids, just unacceptable behaviors. Kids are no different today than they have always been. The distractions are just different.”

The teachers, who gathered at the school for a chat one recent day, said teaching has been made more difficult by new state testing mandates they believe have taken the wonder out of school and made it more about passing tests.

“It has made the job more difficult than it has ever been,” said Tom Amello who has been teaching English at the suburban school of about 1,600 students for 27 years. He received the Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno Award for Excellence.

“They don’t have time to just be a kid anymore,” Zilgme said.

“It’s like setting up a rule that kids all have to learn to tie their shoes by the end of age 2,” Amello said. “You just end up with more Velcro.’

Gregg Weinlein, who teaches English and heads up the school’s Columbia Alternative Program for at-risk kids, said he learned a life lesson from his first job.

“When I first started, I went to a conference and a grandmotherly teacher told the attendees something that I will always remember, ‘Just maintain them through adolescence,’ ” said Weinlein, a 27-year veteran who won the New York State English Council Educator of Excellence Award. “The school system is the last sanctuary. In many ways we are the most stable thing a lot of these kids have growing up.”

The educators said their greatest satisfaction is bumping into former students years later.

“I was walking in the community the other day and saw this guy glaring at me and realized he was a former student who had a lot of problems and was a substance abuser,” Weinlein said. “But he came right up and said ‘Hi,’ and said, ‘Mr. Weinlein it’s been really hard.’ But he was really telling me in his own way that he had made it.”

Also honored was Tracy Farrell, a business teacher who was named Educator of the Year by the Rotary Club of Renssalear County.

Published in Community
See also: timesunion.com
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