For most people, there’s at least one teacher in his or her life whom they remember, and who has made a difference. Teachers spend a significant amount of time with our children, and invest so much of themselves in the education and well-being of their students. A good teacher is a precious part of a child’s life. Solid academics, and also personal skills, are what make a teacher effective. Imparting knowledge is very important, but having the ability to connect with the students is a vital part of the equation.
Peter Zebley is a well-known and much loved Science teacher at Radnor Middle School in Wayne, Pennsylvania. One of our staff members interviewed him on Wednesday, February 18, 2015. The following is a summary of the interview.
Mr. Zebley had been in a career that wasn’t quite what he wanted. He didn’t want one day to be old and look back on his life and think about not having done something meaningful enough to him. He decided he needed something different. He knew he liked to coach, and liked to be around young people. Feeling like a kid at heart, and enjoying helping people, he considered teaching as a career so he could make a difference. He was inspired by some teachers he had in the past in both high school and college; he even went back to talk with them. He remembered they had a sense of humor, and seemed to be very good, moral people, who were able to make learning fun. When he talked to them again as an adult, he said they were really receptive. He decided teaching was something important that he could do, so he went back to school to become a teacher, and get his Master’s degree.
He went to a graduate program at Cabrini College, and met a man whose mother was an inclusion aide (paraprofessional) at Radnor Middle School. He decided to apply there to be a paraprofessional as well while still attending Cabrini. Once he was at the middle school, he ended up impressing the principal, which was the stepping stone to teaching in Radnor Township School District.
He’s now been teaching for about 18 years. Although he wanted to teach Language Arts at the high school, he found himself at the middle school. He began teaching Language Arts in sixth grade and SS for the beginning of his teaching career. Around six years ago, he found out about a position for someone with certification in secondary level science. His certification in Math, Science, and Language Arts allows him to teach up to 9th grade. He accepted the two year commitment, which has now lasted six years. He feels ready for another change, because he likes to switch it up.
He taught a Forensic class at the middle school at one point. This was part of a mentor learning module and was a short lived gifted enrichment program. He really enjoyed teaching it, and said the students got interested right away, since it was a CSI sort of program. The kids were doing Science without realizing it.
He feels that education is increasingly something that is done to the students, and teaching the same facts along with the increased testing which is the current trend is not the way to go. He would like to do something like the current alternate programs at Radnor Middle School, such as Crossroads or Watershed. These special programs, which are very progressive and in-demand, consist of two teachers and 40 students. They are student led. There are no grades, just conferences. These programs, and the one he would like to start, work well with different ability levels and learning styles, and are more effective. He feels the need to get rid of desks, move around, have more trips, and use mindfulness for anxiety and stress reduction. The current push is for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), which is a good trend in Education. He feels that technology is needed in the classroom.
When asked about his most memorable moments, he said the best part of teaching is helping people. He recalled starting out in a modular trailer. A sewer pipe burst one year, then Hurricane Floyd came along and caused the place to be flooded. He also remembers being nominated Educator of the Year his first year, which was quite an honor. One effective classroom management technique he utilized was what he called Z Bucks. He put his face on fake money, which he used to motivate the students, and increase their cooperation. He said it was very powerful.
He says that the most surprising and memorable things of his teaching career are the unexpected notes at the end of the school year, especially from those students you didn’t necessarily know you reached. He says he’s happy with the way his life turned out. At first, he wished he had started out in Education, but later realized it was better this way. He said that now he knows what the business world is like, and he doesn’t need to worry about wondering what it would have been like in another job. Teaching is special to him because it’s different every year. There aren’t other jobs where you reset every September with a new set of kids. He likes the chance to be fresh and have the change every year. Things are different every day.