Melissa DiMarco

Melissa and I trained together at teachers’ college. She is very driven, and wants to impart the same academic zeal to her students. Melissa is super inspirational to be around and constantly offers unique ideas and teaching strategies.

Melissa has accomplished so much in her young career. It’s very empowering to witness her teaching journey.

Feel free to follow her on Twitter @melissadimarco1.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Melissa DiMarco and I am a grade 8 French Immersion teacher in the TDSB. I have been teaching for 4 years at École John English Junior Middle School in the west end of Toronto. When I’m not at school, I am an avid runner and yogi. I enjoy being active and staying fit! I am recently engaged to my partner of over 4 years and we have a 9 month old puppy at home! Life is very busy at the moment!

What do you find the most difficult thing is being at your age and a leader?

I became the department head at my school for the intermediate division after only 2 years of teaching. Normally you need to have 5 years of teaching experience to apply but I saw an opportunity and applied anyways - I got the job! I was thrilled that my principal had enough faith in me to give me the promotion with such little experience. It was a true testament to how hard I had been working and how much I had proved myself until that point. What I did not realize was just how much work the role would require and just how difficult it would be to manage other teachers. The most challenging part of being a leader at this point in my career is trying to manage my workload. I am still early on in my career - this means I am still learning and growing. I still have to lesson plan regularly. I am still making all of my own materials year after year. On top of this, I am now managing a team of 20 teachers (we have a very large school) and leading them through PLCs and other learning opportunities. It is interesting when someone with 2 years of experience tries to tell someone with 40 years of experience how to run a lesson in their classroom. This is something I struggle with. When I think about the situation and put myself in the more experienced teacher’s shoes I think to myself, “why on earth would I listen to this person who just started and is still learning the ropes?” For me, it is all about leading through example and building strong relationships with each and every member of my team. Even if you have little experience as a leader, relationships are the foundation to your success! If the people on your team respect you for your work ethic and they genuinely like you as a person, they are more inclined to get on board with new initiatives.

What is your opinion on teachers using social media to connect with other teachers?

My eyes were opened to the Twitterverse this past year when I took a leadership AQ and my fellow classmates told me to join Twitter to connect with other like-minded teachers in the board. I was astonished to see just how many teachers had Twitter handles! It is like an ongoing portfolio. It truly is a way for teachers to look into the programs of other teachers who are leading in their field. Social media is not just for your personal life, it is also something that can help you connect professionally and it should be utilized to its full potential!

How do you make sure that students are constantly engaged?

Teaching grade 8 is difficult for engagement, especially towards the end of the school year when high school is right around the corner. The key is to build relationships with your students early on and learn what they are genuinely interested in. I constantly try to bring real-world problems into the problem and weave the curriculum into that. Offering students the choice for how they want to learn and express their learning helps with engagement. If I know that a student is into film, I will give them the option of creating a short video in lieu of an essay for an assignment. Another thing that beginning teachers may not be aware of is how much teacher attitude towards a subject or task is related to student engagement. If I am passionate about a topic - that attitude and energy is passed on to my students and the in turn produce great quality work and are much more engaged in the assignment.

Why do you think teacher well being is important?

Teacher well being is important because, as in any job, stress interferes with performance. I know that when I am overwhelmed or stressed, I tend to forget things or rush through lessons. It is important that teachers take time for themselves each day to stay relaxed and in turn focused. Teaching is a very mentally draining job. We spend all day worrying about the 30 students in our classroom. In fact, we often take their worries and problems home with us. This is a very heavy weight to carry on our shoulders and therefore it is important to take time each day to do something for you!

What do you do to unwind after a stressful day at work?

I take my dog for a walk or go for a run after school to decompress. After a full day of teaching, it is very important to take the time to unwind and forget about the stresses of the day! Physical activity helps me do this - but so does binge watching one of my favourite TV shows!