On a recent Sunday, I received a call from my mom, who relayed that she had “sad news.” The obituary of Emily Lazzio was in our local paper back home. Miss Lazzio had been my sixth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Niles, Ohio in 1967. I learned from reading about her that she and I shared many of the same milestones: both born and raised in our small town in Trumbull County, both graduates of Niles McKinley High School, both graduates of Youngstown State University, both having a career as teachers.
While as a student I did not know those details of Miss Lazzio’s life, I am also sure that she did not know this about me: I consider her largely responsible for my decision to become a teacher.
As we go through life, we have all asked and answered those universal questions: Who were your favorite teachers in school? Who are the teachers you remember? My answer is and will always be “Miss Lazzio.”
While we can unfortunately recall those classrooms that did little to motivate us as learners, we also have those golden memories in our hearts of teachers who made a difference. For me, and I suspect for many of my classmates, that teacher making the difference was Emily Lazzio.
That sixth-grade year was a special one that has remained in my memory over the course of my life. A focused task-master, Miss Lazzio made it her business to get the best out of her students. We worked on projects and on teams, devouring the content in the days before standards-based education. A field trip to Cleveland and the Museums of Art and Natural History provided the backdrop for learning beyond the school walls. Miss Lazzio put students at the center and provided a safe place to learn, to fail, and to try again. We were her kids, and while she expected our best, she made us feel a part of something special.
As I work today with teachers around the country implementing personalized learning, I am reminded of Miss Lazzio and of what is most important in our classrooms, in our schools: relationships and a sense of belonging. Her belief in her students and their potential was powerful, and that remains true in classrooms today where teachers are purposeful in building positive connections with kids.
While much has changed since 1967, that guiding principle has not. My wish for you and the children who are closest to you is that you will have a Miss Lazzio of your own. As for myself, I will honor her memory in the work that I do, and every now and then I will let myself wander back in time to those special sixth grade days.