One way for teachers to realize the impact of their classroom leadership is to see how many of their students choose teaching as a career. West Orange High School math teacher Bob Restivo has made a positive impact on his students during his four decades of teaching, and he has had the joy of working alongside several of them.
“Bob Restivo is the No. 1 reason that I became a teacher,” said Algebra I and II teacher Luke Watkins. “Mr. Restivo — I still find it hard to call him Bob — was the best teacher I ever had. I was only at West Orange for the second semester of my senior year, but I will never forget how welcome I felt in his class.”
Restivo, who has been an employee of Orange County Public Schools for 40 years, is retiring from his 35-year stint at West Orange High School at the end of this school year.
He was celebrated Tuesday, May 10, with a surprise gathering at the school. Restivo is a man of routine, so it was easy for teachers and his students to be ready for him as he walked across the courtyard after lunch.
Warrior runners led him through a crowd of cheering students and to the jazz band, which performed a few Beatles songs for him. A plaque with a Warrior football helmet was presented to him to thank him for the 25 years he worked on the “chain gang” and managed the signal poles during football games.
A LONG CAREER
“I’ve always loved math; it was always my best subject,” Restivo said. “It was interesting … and I always knew I wanted to do something with math. In college, when I started tutoring friends and roommates when they were struggling in their classes, it never dawned on me that I could be a teacher.”
OCPS hired Restivo in 1982 to teach seventh- and eighth-grade math at Lakeview Junior High School. In the five years he was there, he also taught classes in pre-Algebra, Algebra and geometry. It was here that he met his wife, Cathy, also a teacher.
In 1987, junior highs were becoming middle schools, and Restivo said he didn’t want to teach sixth-grade math for the rest of his career.
“I wanted more of a challenge, so I wanted to move up to high school,” he said.
The challenge came through teaching geometry, Algebra II, pre-calculus and calculus, and the rewards came as he worked with students and watched them achieve the various levels of math and continue on to college.
Moving to the high school level was a blessing, as it allowed him to mentor students who were thinking about a career in math.
“I always tell students, ‘Yes, you want to make money and support your family, but you have to love getting up and going to work,’ ” Restivo said.
His classroom walls are filled with college pennants, many of them gifts from his students.
“It started with an easy way to decorate my classroom,” he said. “I bought about 10 of them and stapled them on the wall.”
Students wanted to see their favorite colleges represented, so they began bringing them in to be displayed. Some of them are signed by the students.
“It’s an easy way to promote education and get them interested in college — and I’m a big college sports fan, so that helps,” Restivo said.
MAKING AN IMPACT
Restivo said technology has been the biggest change in his four-decade career.
“(We’ve gone) from cell phones to computers to laptops and calculators even,” he said. “Back when I started, students weren’t allowed to do anything on calculators. They had to do everything by hand. I’m old school – I do a lot of paper and pencil and writing on the board.
As the times changed, Restivo changed with them, and his students continued to learn.
Restivo works with three former students at West Orange: Watkins, Geno Thompson and Megan Hannon. He said he knows of at least five others who have graduated from college and are teaching math in other states.
“If I didn’t know the answer to a question, he didn’t make me feel stupid,” Watkins said. “He would help guide me to the answer. He had a way of making a difficult subject like calculus seem like basic math. Because of his guidance, I was able to receive the highest score I could get on the AP test that year. Even in college taking math courses, I never found a teacher who impacted me as much as Bob Restivo.”
“He has the exceptional gift of taking complex material and breaking it into digestible bites, all while wearing a benevolent smile,” said Hannon, who will replace Restivo as calculus teacher. “This was one of the motivations that led me to decide to teach mathematics. Similarly, as a colleague, Mr. Restivo is always willing to help his fellow teachers with that same benevolent smile.”
“Bob Restivo was a teacher who genuinely cared about his students and how well they understood the material,” said Thompson, who teaches AP statistics. “He graded every single problem and told you what you did wrong on each assignment. When I joined the West Orange staff, he became a mentor that I could go to regardless of the topic. He will be deeply missed here at West Orange.”
The Restivos live in Winter Garden and plan to stay here. This is also where they raised their two children — Rachel, an elementary school teacher, and Tony, a construction foreman.
“We’ve lived right here in Winter Garden pretty much our entire career,” he said. “And what we love is living in the community in which we work and seeing the students and seeing the parents and the interaction.”
Restivo’s wife has already retired, so the two are looking forward to having more time together.
“I don’t have everything figured out, but I will be spending a lot of time with family, with grandchildren,” he said. “I’ll be tutoring a little bit to keep my mind sharp, reading, exercising, basically doing whatever I want to do.”
Reflecting on his career, Restivo is proud of the leadership role he played in the classroom.
“I just feel like I have had a dream job and I’ve been able to do what I love,” Restivo said.
“To work with him at West Orange and continue to see the impact that he has on a whole new generation of students, I count myself extremely blessed to be able to call Bob Restivo my teacher, my colleague and my friend,” Watkins said.
“One day I hope that I can have students look back on their high school career and say that I was able to impact them even half as much as Mr. Restivo impacted my life,” Watkins said.