English major, Amanda Iacobellis consistently made the Dean’s List and graduated with a perfect 4.0, earning her the Francis Cardinal Spellman Award for academic excellence, despite the fact that she worked three part-time jobs while studying at St. Thomas Aquinas College—tutoring, interning at an office assistant, and serving pizzas on the weekends.
Four years later, her schedule is even busier. Amanda teaches English Language Arts to middle school students at St. Leo’s School in New Jersey, where she has worked for more than a year. At night, she takes graduate courses through the New Pathways to the Teaching program at New Jersey City University with the goal of earning her permanent New Jersey teaching license.
Amanda says that she became interested in teaching when she was a middle school student herself after her family suffered a tragedy. “My father passed away and my little sister was struggling in her second-grade class,” Amanda recalls. “Overcome with grief, she lost all motivation in school. No amount of tutoring or being sent to the principal’s office helped motivate her.” So, Amanda took the matter into her own hands, empathizing with her younger sibling and helping her find the focus and drive to succeed. “She recently graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree,” Amanda proudly reports.
Day to day, Amanda guides students in developing reading and writing skills, including vocabulary, reading comprehension, literary analysis, and research. When she started out at St. Leo’s School she worked with the principal to re-create the ELA curriculum for middle school students. “I wanted to introduce a diverse range of literature that students could connect with personally,” she says.
To that end, Amanda chooses books that take place in different times and places but have characters the students can relate to. Some examples include The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.
“Some of the most rewarding moments in my career have been when my students become sincerely invested in the piece of literature we are reading in class,” she says. “I have taught students who come into my classroom in September making every excuse not to read and then I help them become the students who volunteer to read out loud on a daily basis and are eager to jump into class discussions.”
Amanda credits her professors in the English Department at STAC for reaffirming her career plans, holding students to a high standard, and introducing her to new genres and authors. “I often use these professors as models for my own teaching practices,” she adds.
Across the nation, the COVID-19 health crisis presented teachers and students with unexpected challenges. While Amanda missed being in the classroom with her students, she was grateful to be able to conduct lessons online and hold class discussions, and escape the global crisis for a while into the world of literature. The pandemic also put a spotlight on areas the education system needs to address, she says. “For example, many students and families did not have adequate technology for distance learning which puts students at a disadvantage.”
Away from work, Amanda enjoys hiking with her husband and spending time with family, friends, and the couple’s two Standard Poodles, Sophie, and Rosie.