Teaching team leaders in conjunction with administrators at Beecher Road School chose second-grade teacher Joseph DePalma to represent them in the state Teacher of the Year competition. “The individual must possess excellence in teaching, must inspire a love for learning in students and must be a distinguished member of the profession,” said School Supt. Dr. Jonathan Budd at the annual teachers’ convocation, when he introduced their choice. “Without a doubt, Joe DePalma matches this definition perfectly!”
DePalma has been a teacher at the school for the past 9 years. He has served as team leader in his grade level. He is a specialist in Responsive Classroom management and has trained fellow teachers, both locally and nationally.
“Joe understands the value of communication and the importance of that can’t be underestimated,” said Dr. Budd in a conversation with this reporter. He noted how DePalma interacts with his students, really modeling successful communication strategies. “He gets along with all types of kids, adults and parents,” Dr. Budd said, adding a popular quote that “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” – by Dr. James Comer.
The nomination goes beyond being a popular teacher. It reflects his willingness to co-operate with and support his colleagues, especially after the challenging year of the pandemic. He was particularly attuned to the needs of the remote classroom teachers, it was noted, offering to help and support them along the way.
“Last year was a challenging year, a unique year,” DePalma said. Teachers had to roll up their sleeves to support the kids in this unusual environment. “We were teaching in a much different way than we were used to,” he said.
Just as this reporter was visiting his classroom, an unanticipated lockdown was announced over the PA system (it later turned out that a worker had triggered it by mistake). Without missing a beat, DePalma instructed the students to sit in front of their desks and to remain calm. Sensing some nervousness, he affirmed with a firm but gentle voice, that he would always take care of them first, and that everything was okay. In that manner, even with social distancing, he gave them a verbal hug.
Mr. D, as he is affectionately known, grew up in Orange, and is a 2005 Amity graduate. He currently lives in Shelton with his wife and 6-month-old daughter. Having a child of his own has shed a new light on his job, he said. More than ever, he has come to realize how important the role of a teacher is, he said. The fact that parents entrust their children to them, “I started to realize how important it is that I uphold that trust.”
Like most teachers at Beecher Road School, DePalma is trained in Responsive Classroom, but he has become a trainer in this classroom management technique. During the summer he works for the company that developed the concept, The Center for Responsive Schools, and has trained teachers from all over the nation. He also offered some professional development opportunities for teachers new to Beecher Road School.
The philosophy of Responsive Classroom helps teachers develop effective classroom management, which in turn helps build a positive community, he said. In addition, they strive to offer an engaging academic program that is developmentally appropriate. By offering a safe, engaging and fun environment, the ultimate goal is that the classroom is a place where kids want to be every day.
To enter the Teacher of the Year competition, he had to submit a series of essays touching on his philosophy, but also on ways to help the school community and the community at large; on how to integrate technology in teaching, and so forth. All the teachers of the Year from throughout the state will be feted at an event at the Bushnell next spring. At that point the winner of the contest will be announced.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent