Sabrina Martiello, a finalists for Lenoir County Teacher of the Year reflects on fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a teacher and the seemingly small moments that make her day.
May 13, 2017
Why did you decide to become a teacher and what brought you to North Carolina?
I have wanted to be a teacher since I was ten. Prior to my senior year at the University of Florida I studied abroad in Italy. The experience allowed me to meet family in my mom's hometown of Lubrichi, a small town in the southern region of Calabria. Returning to my roots on her behalf was the most influential experience of my adult life. I saw first-hand how poverty limited individual growth and I finally understood why my grandmother sacrificed everything that was familiar to her to ensure more opportunities for her family. I left Calabria with greater understanding and respect. Most importantly, the experience forced me to reevaluate education and opportunity in my home country. I felt empowered to do something and I made it my goal to apply to Teach For America.
Have you ever thought about working in another profession?
Imagining waking up for a career outside of education is mighty challenging.
Most people know teachers wake up early during the week and often grade papers late into the night, what don't we talk about when discussing the profession?
I’m sure this is true of other professions but a teacher’s work never ends. It’s difficult not to think about your students or the next school day when you leave work. We all have responsibilities and relationships outside of school but our relationships with students don’t just shut off each day. I’m constantly thinking about how to empower my students; how to ensure they feel loved, appreciated and informed.
How does this empowerment play out in the classroom? Are there lessons or activities that seem to resonate with your students?
My students love these mock trials and debates we’ve been doing in my English classes. Students have actually been asking for more debates which is always refreshing. Throughout the year I’ve seen students of all abilities speak and act with confidence. They are building more and more confidence each time. It’s some of the most joyful and rewarding experiences to see.
So, what is the most exciting part of your day?
There are so many seemingly small moments that remind me how close we all are: greeting students at the door and in the halls between classes; students reusing the same expressions and catch phrases as me when talking to classmates; the highs, lows, and uh-ohs during my journalism class when students can be open, silly, and even vulnerable during our group check-in; and working with the varsity women's soccer team.
Unlike most, I love the fall morning duties and spring lunch duties I’m assigned to. No matter how much teenagers act like they loathe me for being joyful and energetic at 7:15am or during lunch, I know they secretly love it and most are very responsive to it over time. These are the only times during the day I get to see and talk with students I do not teach. And for those in my English or journalism classes, it provides a different atmosphere to build on our relationships.
This past week was Teacher Appreciation Week, do you have any memorable experiences from past appreciation weeks?
Actually my favorite Teacher Appreciation Week memories are from high school. I was an active member of a club called Florida Future Educators of America and we would decorate posters and arrange fun surprises, snacks, and notes to put in teachers' mailboxes. I loved the element of surprise and it was exciting because teachers never knew who we were. Today, I get the same joy when I receive surprise notes and emails from students, coworkers, and parents. Teachers want to hear about how their teaching impacts their students.
While my school does not have a Future Educators of America club, I do similar projects with my journalism students to help them give thanks to their teachers, especially the ones who invite our young interviewers and photographers into their classroom.
What does being appreciated mean to you?
I teach mostly seniors and I love seeing them when they come back to visit. It brightens my day to get called to the office, suspecting the worst, but instead finding one of my graduates eager to check in and update me on what is happening in his or her life.
When students contact you or come back to visit, what do you hope for them?
Teachers want the best for their students. I pray for my students, even the ones I do not teach, to know they matter. I want all of my students to believe they are capable of accomplishing what they want in life. Especially right now, at their age, I think they too often feel restricted. But they can and must advocate for themselves. They have the power to shape their own lives. Five years from now, whether they are finishing college, serving in the military or pursuing another path, I hope they always remember their capacity of achieving success.
Sabrina Martiello is an English and journalism teacher at Kinston High School where she has taught since 2013. In addition to teaching, she founded the Kinston Leadership Team, a summer camp for high school students in the area and mentored new teachers at Teach For America-ENC’s Summer Residency program. A Florida native, Sabrina has lived in Eastern North Carolina since coming to the region as a Teach For America corps member four years ago.