Hartford's Teacher Of The Year Candidates Show What They Can Do
Three Finalists Are Videotaped Giving Their Lessons Tuesday
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
May 07, 2013
HARTFORD — — Joe Battaglia's classroom is like a teenager's ode to rap and Bob Marley, civil rights heroes and comic books.
Posters of Captain America, Iron Man and Malcolm X loom over an electronic whiteboard, where Opportunity High School students on Tuesday wrote down literary techniques in a poem from the late rapper Tupac Shakur.
When Battaglia rolled up his sleeves mid-lesson, the 30-year-old's tattoos were casually exposed to the video camera in the back of the class. "Mr. B" typically sports bright bow-ties and matching sneakers, but on this day also wore a hands-free microphone clipped to his loose pants.
Battaglia is one of Hartford's 2013 Teacher of the Year finalists. David Mangus of the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology at Hartford Public High School, and Mario Marrero, a fourth-grade teacher at Betances STEM Magnet School, are other candidates for the district award that will be announced May 23.
A judging panel of past winners, teachers' union leaders and city school administrators chose the finalists out of 44 nominees. For the last round, the three men were each videotaped for a half-hour Tuesday instructing their students.
A Teacher And Friend
Battaglia received tenure last September — "No getting rid of me now!" he half-jokes — after entering his fifth year in the school system, the last four at Opportunity High. The alternative education program is a partnership with Our Piece of the Pie, a youth development agency, and enrolls students who have struggled to stay in school
Many of the teenagers in his English classes "dropped out of Classical, dropped out of Weaver, dropped out of Bulkeley, or got kicked out," Battaglia said. "This is their last chance."
Emily Martinez, 16, of Hartford, said she enrolled in Opportunity High this school year after having problems at Bulkeley. On Tuesday, she and several classmates delved into "The Rose That Grew From Concrete," a collection of Tupac poems.
Battaglia, a rocker-rapper for Joey Batts and Them, an alternative hip-hop group that has performed in Hartford and around New England, was theatrical, but persistent, in drawing out answers.
"The way he teaches us, he breaks it down so we can understand it," Martinez said. "We can really connect with him. He's basically our friend and our teacher."
This year, Battaglia has featured spoken word poetry in the classroom and had students read poems over a musical beat to understand cadence and rhythm. In the hallway, with Principal Venitia Richardson's permission, his students spray-painted birds and "Enjoy Your Day" as graffiti art.
Battaglia considers himself a "big kid," but said he can relate to his students for another reason.
"I came from a broken home ... a single-parent home. My mom worked two jobs and she wasn't around that much," said Battaglia, a Hartford resident who grew up in New York. He often looked to his teachers and coaches for guidance.
The Dream Job
David Mangus had his own insurance business for 13 years.
"At age 40, I decided to become a teacher," said Mangus, now 49. "And it's the most exciting thing I've ever done."
On Tuesday, which coincided with National Teacher Day, Mangus advised juniors at the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology as they worked on creating a wind-solar hybrid power generation system for a primary school in the village of Saldang, Nepal.
The system will also act as a small moneymaker for the Nepalese — travelers can pay to charge their cellphones and laptops at the school, Mangus said. The project through Catalysts Powering Educational Performance, a Middletown nonprofit, is funded with a grant from the Werth Family Foundation.
In addition, Mangus coordinates the Birds of Prey robotics team that earned a trip to nationals last year, advises the Green Team that has beautified school property and is the father of five daughters who were adopted through the Department of Children and Families.
Kranti Sanyasi, 16, a junior originally from Nepal, said he appreciates Mangus' kindness as a teacher. Classmate Marcela Nguyen, 16, added that "he pays attention to what we like ... He's more hands-on and I'm a visual learner."
'Loves What He Does'
The powered traffic light in Mario Marrero's classroom signaled red. So the fourth-graders quietly worked on assignments as he gave a lesson on line plots and outliers to small groups of students.
Discipline is a hallmark in Room 304, where the magnet school students seem to relish the challenge. Take these 9-year-olds:
"He teaches us what's right and what's not," said Olivia Vaughters, who lives in Middletown. "I'm just very thankful that he's my teacher."
"He actually loves what he does," Risha Ranjan of Rocky Hill said.
"The best teacher in the whole wide world!" said Jose Mulero, a Hartford resident.
Marrero joined the school system soon after graduating from college in 2006. For four years he taught at Milner School, where his mother was once a vice principal. He came to Betances STEM after Milner became a turnaround school in the state Commissioner's Network last summer.
Marrero said it was difficult to leave Milner, where he tutored students after school and coached the middle grades basketball team. But he considers the move a "blessing in disguise."
"You just want to be here," said Marrero, after marching his students to the Betances cafeteria for lunch.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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