Lake Harriet’s Marchetti is state Teacher of the Year

Once an appliance repairman, 3rd-grade educator talks about his award, his dream, and his views on state education policy

For the first time in the Minnesota Teacher of the Year's 39-year history, a Minneapolis teacher, Gino Marchetti of Lake Harriet Community School, 4912 Vincent Ave. S., won the prestigious statewide award for 2003. The state teacher's union, Education Minnesota, presented the award May 4.

The 46-year-old Marchetti started teaching in 1990, fulfilling his lifelong dream and leaving a career in appliance repair. He's taught 3rd grade at Lake Harriet for nine years. He holds a Master of Arts Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of St. Thomas.

Marchetti is also a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves. In November 2002 he received an Air Force Accommodation Medal, and in 2000 he was named the Outstanding Performer in the Pacific Warrior Joint Exercise.

How does it feel to be the state Teacher of the Year?

Wow, they believe in me! Not that I'm the best teacher -- I don't believe that; there are too many good teachers out there. To me, it's a validation. Just having a parent validate you because they think you're a good teacher, and then to go through this process and have panelists who are incredible people in the state think that I can be a credit to the profession.

What was it about the Teacher of the Year award that made you want it?

It's speaking about the profession. I've wanted to be a teacher since I was in the sixth grade. That was the dream I had. So it was, to me, a validation of that dream, that calling and other people believing in me.

And I believe teachers keep on getting pounded and pounded and not getting the due that they deserve. Lake Harriet is an exception to that. Here we are, an inner-city school -- or inner-city district -- but this community says we're going to value our school and our teachers. So it proves that a town like Minneapolis can have schools like this.

So it's a time to get on a platform and talk about how good our teachers are, especially in Minneapolis.

I heard that you commute an hour each way to Lake Harriet. Why?

I live in Elk River, my wife and I ended up there because it's about halfway in between our families. I'd love to live in this community, but I'd never be able to afford it. It's pretty hard to get in here. It's one of those compromises. It's hard to lose essentially a day each week in commuting time.

How did you end up at Lake Harriet?

I got excised from Wilder Contemporary [now Powderhorn Community] after teaching 5th grade for four years. I was moved to Lake Harriet nine years ago.

It ended up being a blessing; I was getting very worn out. We're talking a very hard school to teach in because [Powderhorn is]a community that's struggling; they are still trying to find themselves. It's a mobile community, there's no cohesiveness, and those kids take that lack of cohesiveness, lack of faith in the system, lack of value in education, and they take that into school and it wears those teachers out.

Lake Harriet has fewer students in poverty than say a school like Powderhorn does, and consequently less funding per pupil. With the perspective of a teacher who has taught at a high-poverty school, do you end up having conversations with parents about the reasons for different funding?

It's a constant topic of conversation statewide. I think its a good-hearted idea, but we're missing the fact that it's pouring money into an amputated leg rather than trying to fix it.

I personally think that we have to break societal problems that cause schools to fail. Here in this society, this small Southwest culture, we're successful. Moving away, in other schools, we have these societal problems; so where is the disconnect? Where does the repair have to be? The school is just one small piece of that. We blame the school, we pour a bunch of money into them and then we blame them again.

So what do we have here at Lake Harriet? We have families. [The school] might be stretched thin [financially], but we still get by. You go to other parts of the community and they are highly mobile, and it's devastating to kids, devastating to families, and it kills schools.

What's the best and worst thing about teaching 3rd grade?

The best thing is the energy; it's incredible; I don't know how I get through the day sometimes. It's draining, but at the same time you feed off it and there is a relationship there.

The hardest thing is holding back on teaching something great because they aren't mature enough yet. I keep thinking I can send the kids off on some big task, and then I have to remember that at the beginning of the year they are only 2nd graders.

Teaching wasn't your first career. How does that make you different as a teacher?

It shows students that teachers are more than geeks in the classroom; in the field of education they're trying to find qualified people to come in -- especially in math and science.

The year before I became a teacher, I was an appliance repairman. So what does that say? If you have a dream, or an inclination to teach, if you think that might be where your heart is leading, follow it.

Do you get mad or upset at the legislature or the governor for cuts in education funding?

It drives me nuts. I tend to be the opposite of most teachers, I tend to be Republican. When I saw Pawlently say "absolutely no way are we going to raise any taxes," I said well, you're going to have to. I don't care that the federal government doesn't give us any money; the idea is to keep the federal government out. That's my idea of Republicanism -- the state takes care of the state.

And here it is, Pawlenty is letting us all down. Because he's got it in his mind that everybody wants to keep a couple extra dollars in our pocketbook. I tend to be a Republican, but when it comes to this, [recent DFL gubernatorial candidate Roger] Moe is my man, he makes sense, he understood that it's not cheap to raise a child and that includes here in the school.

You're a member of the Air Force Reserves. What is it like to be a teacher and a serviceperson in a lefty, liberal community?

It's a tough balance, absolutely. I usually take my kids down to the Air National Guard museum, but this year I didn't because of the tension of war and possible war, and I know how the community feels and I'm not sure I want to take that chance and offend anyone.

We'll go again in the future, because the kids can't believe what they are seeing. Sure it's warplanes and stuff, but it's more about flying. It's part of a unit on aviation.

Do you hold back talking about military?

In 3rd grade, they don't really get into it. We talk about my annual tour because I'll be going to Texas for two weeks. Yeah, there are questions, and I tell them what I do and that I enjoy it, so I don't hold back, but I'm not necessarily going to give them every bit of information about it.

When I was teaching 5th grade, they knew everything about me, they knew I had recently gotten married, recently gotten divorced a few years before -- everything about me, because that's what it's about, to connect with kids. Part of it is sharing what you go through.

Is that what teachers mean when they say they are always on stage?

It's part of it. Most teachers just lay it all out there, because the kids know all of your details anyway. You come in looking or feeling any different and they'll let you know. If you try to hide, it won't work, they're going to know that something's wrong.

They know when you're crabby, you can come into class and be completely hoarse from laryngitis, and the class will completely change for you, they'll be completely quiet, and that's the connection teachers can have with kids.