As soon as Emily DiPaolo ’10 stepped off the bus after her first day of kindergarten, she knew that she wanted to become a teacher. DiPaolo was struck by the dedication of her teachers and the small, family-oriented vibe of the Andover Regional School District in Newton, N.J.
“The teachers had a lasting impact. They were really caring and passionate about what they did,” she said. “They were enthusiastic about what they taught. When a teacher is enthusiastic about what he or she is teaching, it’s kind of contagious.”
Then, while studying at Rider, DiPaolo said her mentors in the Department of Teacher Education were able to guide her as she pursued her dream. “They are just great role models. They really keep the focus on the students,” she added.
Sitting down to talk with DiPaolo, you can’t help but notice that she possesses the very same qualities she has admired most about her teachers and professors – dedication, passion and student-centeredness. Perhaps that is why DiPaolo was recognized by the state Department of Education as a 2010 New Jersey Distinguished Student Teacher award recipient. The prestigious honor recognizes the 15 most outstanding prospective teachers in the state. Last fall, DiPaolo student-taught second grade at Toll Gate Grammar School in Pennington, N.J.
“It is very humbling to be recognized with this honor,” said DiPaolo, who received bachelor degrees in Elementary Education and Integrated Science and Mathematics during Rider’s undergraduate Commencement ceremonies on May 14. “I didn’t earn this alone; I share this with the entire education faculty. It’s really a reflection of the Teacher Education program and my cooperating teacher, Jessica Amodio.”
Dr. Sharon McKool, associate professor of Teacher Education, said the School of Education nominated DiPaolo based on her GPA, involvement in extracurricular activities and her performance as a student teacher. McKool met DiPaolo two years ago in her field-based literacy course. While she was not DiPaolo’s student-teaching supervisor, McKool does have firsthand knowledge of her teaching abilities from the school’s teachers because she supervised interns in the same building.
“She had a reputation of being a team player who was eager to learn, but who also shared her own creative ideas and best practice methods,” McKool said. “When I would see Emily in the hallway, she shared her passion for teaching, respect for her students, and curiosity about instructional practice. Because Emily truly is a reflective practitioner, these hallway conversations led to many focused discussions about classroom practices.”
Dr. Michael Curran Jr., professor of Teacher Education, who supervised DiPaolo during the sophomore-level program with G.J. Fisher Middle School in Ewing, N.J., echoed McKool’s observations. He said that many teachers commented on her enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism. In addition, he noted that DiPaolo has a knack for developing cooperative learning activities and creating a positive classroom environment. “She was exceptional in a small, one-on-one setting,” Curran added. “She adapted and tailored her lessons to students of diverse learning abilities.”
Since she was a sophomore at Rider, DiPaolo has worked as a tutor in the Math Skills Lab of the University’s Student Success Center. As a tutor, she not only boosted the confidence of students, but she grew as an effective educator.
“That experience has really helped me to be in tune with different learners and cater to what they know,” said DiPaolo, who also privately tutors a family during the summers. “Some students have either math phobia or they have had a horrible experience in a math class. To them it’s a foreign language. As a tutor, I guide them and try to build confidence. Everyone's needs are different – your job is to accommodate them and help them to be the best that they can be. Everyone has potential.”
During her time at Toll Gate, DiPaolo had a chance to teach math, social studies, science and language arts and reading. One of the most memorable lessons she planned and taught gave the students a chance to learn about their community, with each student being assigned a different Pennington location to research. They made their assigned places out of cardstock and created a 3-D model of the borough on a bulletin board. The students also interviewed their parents about their jobs.
“The lesson made the students realize that everyone in the community and their various places are important and have a role,” DiPaolo said.
Currently, DiPaolo is looking for a fourth- or fifth-grade teaching position in northern New Jersey. However, DiPaolo, who is also certified to teach middle-school math and science, is keeping her options open.
Curran said he could see DiPaolo excelling in the middle-school level. He taught her in his ELD-360: Structure and Culture of Middle Level Education class, a course that focuses on Breaking Ranks in the Middle (BRIM): Strategies for Leading Middle Level Reform. The concepts are designed by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). In fact, Curran said Rider is the only university in the nation that offers an undergraduate course using BRIM materials.
“Emily embraced the concepts so well that if she does go to a middle school, she could ultimately help develop and revise the culture of middle-level education,” Curran said. “It’s students like Emily who are going to make a difference in the field of education.”