Gary Maratea

High School Teacher, Meriden Public Schools

Gary Maratea and the student had fallen into a pattern that started in September. Maratea, a veteran math teacher and department chair at Orville H. Platt High School in Meriden, would ask the student if he was going to participate in the classwork that day. 

The student would give Maratea a bit of the evil eye and then proceed to not participate. Maratea didn’t ever push it, but he also didn’t stop trying to encourage him.

“I’d say, ‘OK, let me know if you change your mind.’” Maratea recalled. “‘I want you to pass. I want you to do well.’”

But all of that changed on a recent Friday. Maratea was working with another student sitting next to the usually recalcitrant student. Maratea noticed that the student who had up until that point given little indication that he was even the tiniest bit interested in the math class wheeled his chair closer and started paying attention.

“Hey, you can take out your computer if you want,” Maratea recalled saying to the student. “I’ll help you with it too. All three of us can work together.”

Maratea had no idea how this was going to play out. In the end, the student came over and started working, much to Maratea’s quiet delight.

“It made me smile inside because I think he pays attention,” Maratea said. “I think he hears what’s going on but I think he chooses not to participate for whatever reason.”

In addition to the student finally coming out of his angry shell to do some classwork, he even accepted a little light ribbing from Maratea. The student did one other thing that he hadn’t done since he’d been in Maratea’s class. He smiled. 

“It took three months, but he smiled,” Maratea said. “I feel like I have him now. I don't know what it was. There's no magic.”

Maratea said he believes building relationships with students is often more important than teaching them, especially at the beginning of the school year. The veteran teacher said he understands that math isn’t always the first thing on his students’ minds when they come to class. 

Like many diverse, urban school districts in the state, students are often grappling with more than their homework. He knows that dealing with everything from what’s happening at home to having a best friend who suddenly stops speaking to them can impact their day at school. 

That’s what happened recently to another student in his class. Her best friend from last year stopped speaking to her and then, out of the blue, started texting her again. No apology and no explanation. The student trusted Maratea enough to ask how he thought she should respond.

Maratea said it means a lot to him that his students would come to him for advice.

“By December, they trust me enough to ask my opinion or ask for guidance on those things, which is just kind of cool,” he said.

Maratea said he went into teaching because he wanted to help people, and over time, he focused specifically on helping young people. With nearly two decades of teaching under his belt, his first set of third-grade students is now adults out in the working world. 

When he needed a plumber at his house recently, the person who showed up was one of those former third-grade students. They got to catch up on Maratea’s deck after the job was done and catch up. 

“He thought it was one of the coolest things,” Maratea said with a chuckle.

The profession has changed a lot and educators wear a lot more hats than they did when he first started.

You're a parent figure. You are a role model. You are a mentor. Sometimes teaching is secondary, unfortunately, especially with the social-emotional issues that are going on with a lot of the kids now.

Gary Maratea

Layer on the societal issues of the day, and being an educator in the 21st century can be tough, he said. But he said he lives for what happens in the classroom – the days when his students are doing all the talking and sharing what they’re learning. 

“They’re meeting with each other and I’m guiding them when they hit a roadblock,” he said. “I’m not really teaching them but letting them discover and bounce ideas off each other.”

He said the days when “it’s noisy in the classroom and the kids are laughing and they're working together and 90 percent of the time is math – that’s a win.”