Weird. Crazy. Funny. Fun.
These are the adjectives Gary Maratea’s students use to describe him. Maratea is a math specialist at and Meriden’s 2011-12 Teacher of the Year.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mark Benigni describes him a little differently.
“He embodies everything that’s right about our school district,” Benigni said last September when presenting him with the award.
“He was an outstanding choice,” agrees his principal, Rob Montemurro. “The kids really gravitate toward him.”
That they do. In class they joke with and tease him good naturedly. When asked to describe him, they offer to act out his teaching style. One girl crumples up a piece of paper and tosses it at him, saying, “That’s what he does.”
And somewhere in the midst of all the laughing and teasing, the kids are learning. They admit as much themselves. As an example, Maratea describes a once-struggling student who is now getting As in math and recently became a student of the month.
Maratea has taught math in Meriden for nine years, first in grades 3 and 4 at Roger Sherman Elementary, then in grade 6 at Washington. This is his first year as a math specialist, teaching both intervention and enrichment classes.
The kids in his classes see him twice a week. They miss specials like gym, music and art to work with him.
“I try to make it more fun because I know they’re missing that,” he says. And he appears to be succeeding. All of his kids said they want to come back and work with him again next year, even though it means missing out on those other classes.
To engage his students, Maratea uses a lot of technology in his teaching. He has a SMART Board in his classroom with a clicker response system.
“Kids have a lot of fun with that,” he says.
Last year, Maratea’s class took part in a cooperative technology project with Dodd Middle School in Cheshire. Students at the two schools worked together to create podcasts of walking tours of Hartford. This year, he is working with Washington’s technology education teacher Michael Weber to bring a robotics pilot class to the school. (Watch for a story soon on Patch.)
Michelle Lindsay, a reading specialist at Washington, has known Maratea for many years and has worked closely with him in the past year as a fellow intervention specialist. She describes him this way: “The remarkable thing about his teaching is the rapport he develops with his students--the relationships he builds inside and outside the classroom. It’s great to see the smiles on their faces. He really gets them excited about learning.”
Maratea says that is his favorite part of teaching—getting to know his students and letting them get to know him.
“They stop by years later just to say hi and tell you that you had an effect on them,” he shares. “That’s awesome.”
According to Montemurro, students aren’t the only ones who are fond of Maratea.
“He’s very well liked by the teachers and staff here,” he attests. “He does quite a bit before, during and after school.”
Acknowledging that he does arrive early, at about 6 a.m., Maratea jokes, “I get there early because I like to talk a lot.”
After school, he is involved in the school improvement committee and helping to start a chapter of the National Junior Honor Society at Washington.
Outside of school, he enjoys playing golf and running 5K races.
Perhaps one reason students relate to him so easily is that he is a full-time student himself, studying educational administration at Southern Connecticut State University. He also recently became certified to teach high school, but says he has no plans to leave Washington.
“I’m just giving myself options,” he explains.
“I love my job right now,” he says with convincing verve. “I love every day.”