West Orange teacher offers slice of school life

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  • | 7:07 p.m. September 17, 2014
THESE TIMES: For one weekend, we were 18 again
THESE TIMES: For one weekend, we were 18 again
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Editor’s note: 2015 Orange County Teacher of the Year, West Orange High School language-arts teacher Kristen Iannuzzi, will be blogging her year-long journey and sharing stories about the employees who work for Orange County Public Schools. We will share her stories in the West Orange Times.

I didn’t know I was called to teach.  Looking back now, it all seems so happenstance — a precise and meticulously orchestrated coincidence. After all, I wasn’t the most decisive college kid. In fact, I changed majors four times and institutions once. So in many ways, finding my journey was a journey in itself.

My original foray led me to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. I was a cadet and majoring in Dirt. Yes, Dirt. Most civilian institutions would know it as geography, and I haven’t the slightest recollection on why I found such a field of study appealing. But the real problem came to fruition when I took the Intro to Dirt course —the one mandated for all cadets regardless of major. I barely passed. In fact, my score was so pathetically low at one point in the semester, I failed a test and it actually brought up my grade. This is entirely and sadly a true story. Nevertheless, I earned every bit of that C- — and made the long trek to my advisor’s office to change majors. My days as a straight-A high school student seemed long gone.

Enter Major No. 2: Military Art and Science. I have to say, it was great in theory — until, of course, two years later, when I found myself at a civilian college trying to convince a counselor that MS310: Small Unit Tactics is actually applicable in everyday society and should absolutely count as a credit towards my degree. The University of North Florida did not offer a Military Science track, though, and so began the coursework in my absolute favorite of my misfit majors: Anthropology.

It was my mom who ruined that one: “What are you going to do with an Anthropology degree?!” 

Well, clearly … move to South America and live among an insufficiently-studied group of cannibals. After developing adequate rapport, I will research, document, and report on their existence from the beginning of time until now. I mean, seriously … what else would I do with it? 

I think my parents were concerned I had lost my way, but I was ultimately convinced to find a different direction when realizing there would be no toilets on my South American safari.

OK, fine: English wins. Truth be told, I only picked an English degree, because it was the only way I could graduate without taking another math course. You see, I was still having nightmares from West Point’s rendition of mathematical excellence: Discrete Dynamical Systems. To this day, I have no idea what that means — even after taking it twice.

Fast forward several years, and I came to the classroom after a quick stint at the police academy. I honestly, truly, desperately had no idea what to do with my life or where I belonged. But, I knew it wasn’t at West Point … and it wasn’t in law enforcement.

I owe my career now to a man who saw something in me when I didn’t see anything in myself. The assistant principal who hired me midyear to fill a vacant English position at West Orange High School no longer works for OCPS, but I am forever grateful Andrew Jackson took a chance on me. I am forever grateful he believed in me. I found my voice. I came alive. I was called to teach. And every obstacle and every setback that led up to that moment has propelled me to be a champion of future dreams and a steadfast advocate for all my students. I believe I am better because I have failed and stumbled and struggled and triumphed.

And so the years flew by, and last February, I suddenly found myself in the spotlight, a bit uneasy and unsure of myself. Being named the 2015 Orange County Teacher of the Year is beyond anything I could have possibly imagined, and I am humbled by the outpouring of love and support from so many people who call OCPS home. Serving the district in this capacity is truly a remarkable experience, and I want to spend the school year telling the stories of some of the other 22,000 employees — the unsung heroes of our district who serve selflessly and who, often (and unintentionally), may go overlooked or under-appreciated. Because we all are champions of dreams. We are all a bridge to the future. Together, we create a force that enables children to grow and thrive and succeed. Together, we make it count.

So I am calling all teachers, classified employees, administrators, schools and departments: If you know an outstanding Orange County employee or department or school, contact me today. I want to share your stories. You can reach me via email at [email protected].


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