Learn more about the 2020-2021 New Jersey County Teachers of the Year:

What is your name & job title?

Philip Pallitto, 5th and 6th Grade English Language Arts Teacher, Arts Integration Specialist; Jordan Road School, Somers Point School District

Do you love your job? What do you love about it?

Yes, I love my job! There is nothing more advantageous than watching students grow, develop and blossom.

Challenging myself by staying up to date with the latest research, and hours of planning and preparation culminate in preparing my students for jobs that don’t even exist. Knowing that I am shaping the next 21st Century Leader is enthralling.

Tell me about your students.

My students are diverse in nature. At one time, the demographics of The Somers Point School District mirrored the demographics of the state. With that, 65% of students are categorized as economically disadvantaged.

Additionally, my 5th and 6th Graders are curious, funny, smart, English Language Learners, diverse in their learning modalities, collaborators, problem solvers, unique in their personalities, and, most importantly, kids. These skills and personality traits are essential to navigating life in the 21st Century.

Tell me about a project related to your work that makes you really proud.

Aside from working with NJDOE to Develop the ELA Units of Study by Unpacking the NJ Student Learning Standards, my work with The Connected Action Roadmap Pilot and varying other projects on the district and state level, Arts Integration is one of the projects that gives me the most gratification.

Integrating the arts across the curriculum is an innovative, yet effective educational process by which students learn through the arts. The intent is not to necessarily teach the arts, but to use them within the regular curricula. Learners use art as the catalyst to make learning meaningful and motivating, while connecting to a student’s culture.

With art being reflective of culture, Arts Integration mirrors the Culturally Responsive work of Zaretta Hammond by using the arts as a gateway into a student’s culture.

What is your connection to your union/local association?

I am currently the Vice-President of the Somers Point Education Association, and have served on a few committees in the past.

Why did you choose a career in public education?

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. While I was attending Atlantic Cape Community College, I began directing the school musical at my alma mater, Jordan Road School in Somers Point. Opening Night was transformative … there was a feeling of pride, gratification and fulfilment when the 4th through 8th graders received a standing ovation.

Upon transferring to and graduating from Wagner College on Staten Island, I was offered several job opportunities in the corporate world of theater, however, none seemed as influential as my work with kids, and watching their growth and development through the musical. (I often say, the musical is the ultimate Student Growth Objective, before SGO’s were popular).

That prompted me to pursue a Master’s Degree in Education.

Furthermore, I chose a career in education:

  • Because I am a life-long learner, and I love instilling that quality in others
  • To see that spark in a student’s eye when they finally understand something
  • For my love of the arts and an arts education
  • My mother is a teacher and she passed the love of teaching and learning on to me

Have you had a teacher or educational support professional who inspired you?

I grew up around teachers and have always had a thirst for knowledge, which has allowed me to have many influential teachers during my adolescent years, from Mike Hinman in 6th Grade, to Jay Reinert and Donna Mohr in 8th Grade to Becky Sannino and Judy Cline in High School, with many more along the journey.

However, no one has been more influential and inspiring than Kim Tucker, the Former Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction at the Somers Point School District. Her forward thinking, ability to have “courageous conversations,” share her “wonderings” along with her love of learning, persistence and dedication have empowered not only myself, but members of Somers Point Staffulty to challenge, nurture and instill a love of learning in all of the students of The Somers Point School District. Though she recently retired, her work and dedication will shine brightly in the district for years to come!

If you had to describe public education in one word, what would that be?

If I had to describe public education in one word, I would say reflective.

Public education is reflective of our current society, reflective of our past, reflective of what our future will be. Public education empowers teachers to be reflective in their practices, students to be reflective in their actions, and human beings of all ages to be reflective of other’s perspectives and experiences to drive and inform their own opinions and actions.

Public education is facing many challenges. One is the impact that COVID-19 has had on how we teach and how students learn. What have you learned about how you, your colleagues, and your students adapted to remote instruction?

I have learned a lot through remote learning. Specifically, I have learned that teachers and public education were able to make lemonade out of lemons, and quickly navigate through uncharted territory with little to no time or resources. While some aspects were better than others, it quickly became evident that nothing can replace the community that a school provides, along with personal connections and relationships between student and teacher, and the collaboration through Professional Learning Communities and comradery between colleagues and administrators, respectively.

In an effort to build trusting learning relationships through virtual instruction, I focused on culturally responsive instruction based on the work of Zaretta Hammond. I tried to empower students through learner-centered lessons. In order to make learning communal, I focused on making lessons more social by incorporating live sessions. I also built in time to responsive to students’ academic and social needs as they experienced emergency remote learning.

Additionally, the removal of SGP’s, Standardized Testing, and Teacher Observations, allowed the focus of instruction to be on adapting to the needs of the students, and differentiating teaching to ensure that students were receiving the tools needed to succeed, whatever they may be.

As a result of George Floyd’s murder, along with other tragedies targeting Black people, more and more people are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. How has this affected you as an educator, and as a person, and how do you see yourself addressing systemic racism through your work as a teacher?

The recent events surrounding George Floyd’s murder, along with other tragedies targeting Black people have impacted me personally. It is 2020, and to see a group of people targeted simply for the color of their skin is unacceptable.

For years, groups of people fought to have equal rights, from The Women’s Suffrage Movement, to The Stonewall Riots to The Civil Rights Movement, to name a few. All have laid the foundation for our current generation to live in a world where they can be afforded the same rights. We need to be reminded of the struggles to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Therefore, it is imperative to end the school to prison pipeline.

Students need to be presented with facts from various forms of history. I challenge my students to consider perspectives, and empower them to support their opinions with facts. In my classroom, we look at influential figures, their factors of success and synthesize their importance, as cultural representations of difficult and tumultuous times in human history from which we all can learn from.

As a teacher, I try to address systemic racism in several ways. I constantly try to see, understand and address the ways the world treats me and my students as members of racial groups. I strive to see, understand and address our community of Somers Point and my individual students in their full complexity. In my role as a teacher leader, I try to see, understand and address the ways opportunities to learn and thrive are unequally distributed to racial groups.

Finally, I think about what actions I must take as a teacher and teacher leader to offer my students opportunities to learn and grow in an equitable manner.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you would like to share?

I consider my key strengths to be teaching and assessing the standards by using an arts-integration framework. Whether it’s my work with students in the classroom, my learning with my professional learning community, or while directing the school plays, arts-integration provides the tools to help my students learn and demonstrate their learning. I am enthusiastic about using this approach in a standards-based environment, and am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to share my expertise while presenting workshops in school districts and at the NJEA Convention. I would welcome the opportunity to share my learning on a broader scale.

Related Videos

Send this to a friend