Madison history teacher is Trumbull’s 2019-20 Teacher of the Year
Lisa Cerulli notices the reactions she gets when she tells people about her job. And her goal is to change that perception starting with the next generation.
“When you tell people our age that you teach social studies, they tend to remember it as one of their least favorite school subjects because they found it boring,” Cerulli said. “They remember it as a list of dates and places that they had to memorize. I always tell them ‘It’s too bad you didn’t have the teachers I had.’”
“Now, we give the students questions, and there can be more than one answer,” she said. “We tend to be much more student-focused, and the goal is to get them thinking and researching on their own.”
This can make the curriculum more challenging, she said. But it’s also a lot more interesting.
“I tell the students, no one wants to hear me talk for 45 minutes, least of all me, she said.
But if Cerulli wishes more people could have had teachers like she did, a generation of Trumbull students are getting something that could be even better: Cerulli herself.
Cerulli, the 2019-20 Madison Middle School and Trumbull Teacher of the Year, is a Norwalk native. She has been teaching for 27 years and is the daughter of a teacher. But teaching isn’t something she saw herself doing when she was growing up. But she enjoyed working with children, and after graduating Boston College she applied for an internship program at Sacred Heart, where she earned a master’s degree in education. Another master’s, this time in history from Southern CT State, followed.
Her goal for students is for social studies to be one of their favorite subjects. And there’s evidence is she is succeeding.
“I ask students all the time, what is their favorite subject,” she said. “And when you ask that, they always respond by giving the name of a teacher.”
When Deana Ebert, a colleague of Cerulli’s, does the same, students tell her about their social studies teacher.
“Her students thrive with her instruction, organizations, and use of technology. But her personal attention ... to her students makes the difference,” Ebert wrote in a nominating letter in May. “Our beautiful school community is a family. As her colleague, I know I can count on Lisa for anything.”
Ebert went on to describe Cerulli as “endlessly” caring.
Jeffrey Vance agreed with Ebert’s conclusions about Cerulli’s students thriving in her classroom. Having watched her teach for years, Vance said he was “in awe” of her creativity in instruction.
“She had to repeatedly craft careful lessons that often would change,” Vance wrote in another nominating letter. “It goes without saying that students love attending her class because it is not banal or rote. Something new, creative, and fun was being done each and every day.”
Vance himself found himself listening in on Cerulli’s classes, trying to pick up tips to use with his own students. He later learned he needn’t have been so covert — Cerulli has been a teacher-mentor for years and leads the committee to assist with new teachers and their praise for her mentoring is unwavering, he wrote.
For her part, Cerulli said the comments from her fellow teachers and school staff have been overwhelming.
“It was amazing, overwhelming, and humbling to read what they had to say,” Cerulli said. “It did my heart good.”