Ok, first things first, Mr. Fazio does have a first name.
But having met him in the Fall of 1996 at Gorton High School, he was only ever really introduced to me as Mr. Fazio, your Biology teacher and no, you may not go to the bathroom Josh, now sit down and have something to write with.
Much like the famed Mr. Brown of PS 30 legend, Mr. Fazio also meant business and from the moment that bell rang to the moment those sweet chimes could be heard echoing through the P.A. system 58 minutes later, class was in session in a major way, pushing us to our intellectual limits as he unleashed Biology fury in the form of notes, videos, charts, graphs, photos, and more.
Certainly though, I don’t want to paint him as some tyrant of a teacher, far from it.
Mr. Fazio’s passion for teaching, coupled with his compassion for each and every student that walked through his doorway in the 22 years he taught at Gorton High School should be something of a template for how future teachers can be empowered to vibrantly present their curriculum while servicing all the needs of their students.
I’ve kept in contact with him over the years as he watched me live my crazy life and recently, I felt compelled to step back in time with him once more, to get a kind of “behind the scenes” look at my former Biology teacher and if nothing else ask the most simplistic of life’s questions, why?
Why all the notes on the board? And by board I mean chalkboards plural, all four walls had chalk boards and all four of them would be filled to the brim with notes by the 58th minute of class. I guess he wasn’t kidding when he told me on the first day to have something to write with.
Still though, despite the rigor of being a student in his class, he churned out bright, capable, engaged and successful students.
I passed, and that’s saying a lot since I failed many many classes in High School, spending three summers down at Museum School on Warburton Ave, looking out onto the sunny Hudson River, feeling the warm breeze, oh and being in school during summer vacation.
It was his intellect, his discipline, his passion for Science and a prayer that got us through those nine months and whether it was Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science or boyfriend issues, Mr. Fazio always and I mean always was present, fun, enthusiastic and in the end, a teacher that you wished you could have again and again.
So let’s find out the why’s and how’s of Rocco Fazio’s teaching career in this edition of MyYonkers Conversations!
MyYonkers: What did you teach at Gorton HS?
Mr. Fazio: Predominantly Biology, Lab and AP Biology but when I started teaching back in the late 1960’s I was teaching everything you can think of as a Seminarian brother with the Salesian School. Religion, English Grammar, Biology and General Science, five different sections in all and a great deal of lesson planning.
MyYonkers: Where else did you teach before Gorton HS?
Mr. Fazio: I taught my first few years out in the corn fields of Indiana, when I had all those various sections of curriculum, then moved around from New York and Boston but finally settled in at Maria Regina in Hartsdale for seven years which for me was just heaven there. I taught Chemistry which I loved and the girls I taught were very receptive to my instruction. I keep in touch with many of them and a few have gone on to become medical doctors, one is even a judge and have all been very successful. Despite having had such a positive experience there, I felt compelled due to my family situation to go into the Public Education system and that’s when I ended up at Gorton HS.
MyYonkers: What was it like going from Catholic School to Public School?
Mr. Fazio: It was different but not difficult. I still loved the teaching but I found I also loved the diversity of the student population. I had a strong foundation for lesson planning and I knew I just had to remain systematic and single-minded regarding my classroom.
MyYonkers: It is well-known that Gorton High School, along with many Schools in Yonkers have experienced increased incidents of violence in the last 5-10 years, why do you think this is so?
Mr. Fazio: From about 2006 on until I retired in 2010, there were fights every day at Gorton and I think one of the biggest reasons were due to the increased presence of gangs in the area, having come up from the city and now in Yonkers. The Police certainly did what they could but due to budget problems, they were pulled from the schools too. There were problems but we managed. These students unfortunately had very little support from their homes too, which added to the issues, parents being incarcerated and a number of students were emancipated minors who had jobs after school and were very responsible.
MyYonkers: What were some of the differences in teaching regular Biology versus AP Biology?
Mr. Fazio: Well we definitely got some of the top students in those AP classes and I think one thing that set them apart was that they approached learning differently, they had a system for learning whether it was their study habits or how they absorbed the material.
MyYonkers: What were some of the highlights of teaching at Gorton HS?
Mr. Fazio: You know there really aren’t “highlights” per say but it’s really a continuous day-to-day regiment of getting students to understand concepts and thought processes and to appreciate the history of science and to demonstrate their knowledge of Science. In many ways the highlight was me learning how to teach and evolve as an educator.
MyYonkers: Did you like having to be “observed” as a tenured teacher during formal observations?
Mr. Fazio: I never minded, especially when it was an announced observation versus the unannounced ones. I know the newer teachers would definitely feel more stress during these observations. Personally though, while I didn’t mind them, I felt that there were things going on inside the classroom that are not imperative for the administrators know about. I’m teaching Science and that’s what’s happening inside my classroom, period. One highlight though did come toward the end of my career I received one of those unannounced observations where the principal walked in. I was teaching an AP Bio course, I had the computer hooked up to the projector, teaching the lesson, talking to and showing the students what was already in their textbook. In the end, the Principal said “you are actually teaching what I learned in college!” and I said thank you very much.
MyYonkers: What is one of the hardest parts about being a teacher?
Mr. Fazio: Seeing students underachieve. Even more so than that, you have to continuously give students opportunities to learn and to achieve. I saw many students fail out of AP courses and so on but being able to always give them a chance at learning the material and not giving up on them is the challenge.
MyYonkers: What is the best method for students to learn?
Mr. Fazio: I’ve always believed the best way is by multi-sensory, so with technology today especially, students can read it, see it, listen to audio and so on. Years ago before computers in the classroom, I would always include many many videos in my curriculum, earning me the nickname, “Captain Video”!
MyYonkers: So I have to ask…what was with all the notes we had to take as students?
Mr. Fazio: Again, I think a teacher has to understand which ways work best with the given student population and with your particular class, you guys learned best by having lots of information available to you. In the last few years however I remember making an outline for the students instead and I would simply tell the students to fill it in as I did my lecture. My students still achieved from Regents to AP students.
MyYonkers: What was your favorite Science?
Mr. Fazio: Chemistry. Chemistry was the toughest course I ever loved. I really enjoyed teaching it to the young ladies at Maria Regina and once I got to Yonkers, the position they offered was for Biology so I switched exclusively to that.
MyYonkers: Who was your favorite Yonkers Schools Superintendent?
Mr. Fazio: My first one, Dominick Batista, I liked him a great deal and he was a gentleman. What made him great was that for the time, he was a fatherly figure that took care of both the students and the teachers. He knew what the teachers needed and appreciated their service.
MyYonkers: How well do you feel you connected with your students?
Mr. Fazio: One of the things I learned as a Seminarian before I even got married is that there always has to be a rapport with the students if you are going to teach them. I made it a point to know of them personally so I could then influence them to achieve academically and to understand their needs. It was always challenging in the first month of the school year but then you get a feel for them, how they behave, what their attitudes are like, etc. The Salesian methodology is simple: Reason, Religion and Kindness. I want the students to leave my classroom in a good mood, that was also important to me.
Looks like I’m not the only one who has the utmost respect and fondness for Mr. Fazio. Recently he was profiled once again, this time by the Senior Gazette, a publication by the Elant Health Care System that services the Hudson Valley and where his wife, Alana Fazio, also a former Gorton High School teacher, resides.
I just hope he makes them take less notes than his former students.