Oceanside students learn how
teaching can be an uplifting career

By Sylvia Saunders



lose your eyes and think back to a memorable early learning experience. Who was that special person who taught you something?

That was the simple — but powerful — warm-up at a recent Take a Look at Teaching Club kickoff at Oceanside High School.

One student talked about how her grandmother taught her how to make meatballs, sharing a deep family secret. Another recalled how he learned how to throw a baseball from his dad.

“Miss Eckers!’’ said another — and the room went abuzz at the mere mention of beloved kindergarten teacher Elaine Eckers. “She taught me ‘left’ and ‘right.’”

“I thought about Miss Eckers, too!” another student shouted out. “She taught me how to make an ‘M.’”

New York State 2023 Teacher of the Year Billy Green smiled knowingly.

“You see, teachers really matter,” Green said, whether it’s informal teaching by someone in your family or your own Miss Eckers.

 Left: students and a teacher enjoy a balloon drop during a class closing activity; Right: a female student holds a neon green balloon with the words "Inspire kids and love to teach" written on it

In a closing activity, Oceanside students surround New York State 2023 Teacher of the Year Billy Green for a balloon release. Students, including 10th-grader Giavanna Palmieri, right, were asked to write six words to describe their key takeaways about a career in teaching.

Green, a charismatic high school chemistry teacher in Harlem, was the keynote speaker at Oceanside’s TALAT Club kickoff event in October. He passionately described how a long line of middle, high school and college teachers never gave up on him — and inspired him to succeed against all odds, from a homeless shelter all the way to becoming the state’s “MVP” in teaching.

“People kept telling me I had to become a doctor or a lawyer in order to be successful, but I proved them all wrong,” Green said. “The most important thing is to follow your dream. And if you want to make a difference, teaching can be a perfect choice.”

Oceanside’s event also included a panel discussion with district alumni who are now teachers, as well as college students enrolled in local teacher preparation programs. “I had such a positive experience here as a student that I wanted to give back,” said Tom Pallatto, a special education teacher at the high school.

Oceanside’s Jennifer Wolfe, 2021 NYS Teacher of the Year who helped organize the event, said the new TALAT Club is a natural extension of other programming in the district.

Helen Dixon teaches a dual enrollment college elementary elective at the high school where students can earn three college credits at Long Island University. Students observe classes, work on lesson plans and get hands-on experience working in the district’s early childhood center.

“For some, it gives them real-world experience that completely hooks them and helps them make college plans,” Dixon said. “Others say ‘now I know I don’t want to be a teacher,’ which is just as important (to know).”

The Oceanside Federation of Teachers is one of 42 local unions that have received “Grow Your Own” seed money from NYSUT to improve recruitment and retention. The union-led effort is supported by a $675,000 three-year grant from the National Education Association, one of NYSUT’s national affiliates.

“These GYO programs have been so inspiring for both students and staff — a celebration of a career in education,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango, who was a panelist at the Oceanside event.

DiBrango noted that local unions or members looking to launch their own TALAT programs can access a variety of helpful resources online at TakeaLookatTeaching.org.

“Our site is filled with suggested ideas and activities that can be used in classrooms, an after-school club or in partnership with community organizations,” DiBrango said. “Successful GYO programs not only help recruit future educators — they also help them stay in the profession.”