Elgin math teacher goes beyond classroom to impact students

Elgin math teacher goes above and beyond to make an impact on students

  • Marty Angelo teaches sixth-graders at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin. Here, he works with Montez Miller, 11, in math class.

      Marty Angelo teaches sixth-graders at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin. Here, he works with Montez Miller, 11, in math class. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Marty Angelo, who teaches sixth-grade math at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin, recently was honored for his dedication and service by the Chicago Bears and Symetra with a "Hero in the Classroom Award."

      Marty Angelo, who teaches sixth-grade math at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin, recently was honored for his dedication and service by the Chicago Bears and Symetra with a "Hero in the Classroom Award." Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Sixth-grade math teacher Marty Angelo has spent 22 years at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin. This school year has been his most challenging after the death of his wife, Melodie, from cancer in September.

      Sixth-grade math teacher Marty Angelo has spent 22 years at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin. This school year has been his most challenging after the death of his wife, Melodie, from cancer in September. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Marty Angelo recently was honored for his dedication and service by the Chicago Bears and Symetra with a "Hero in the Classroom Award."

      Marty Angelo recently was honored for his dedication and service by the Chicago Bears and Symetra with a "Hero in the Classroom Award." Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Marty Angelo always goes above and beyond for his students, including riding the bus home with them each day, making home visits after too many absent days, and attending their sporting events on the weekends.

      Marty Angelo always goes above and beyond for his students, including riding the bus home with them each day, making home visits after too many absent days, and attending their sporting events on the weekends. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Marty Angelo, back center, with his sixth-graders from Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin participating in Girls on the Run in Joliet.

    Marty Angelo, back center, with his sixth-graders from Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin participating in Girls on the Run in Joliet. Courtesy of Marty Angelo

  • Marty Angelo received the Chicago Bears/Symetra "Hero in the Classroom Award" earlier this school year for his dedication to students.

    Marty Angelo received the Chicago Bears/Symetra "Hero in the Classroom Award" earlier this school year for his dedication to students. Courtesy of Marty Angelo

 
 
Updated 2/11/2019 7:05 AM

When it comes to teaching students with behavioral challenges, Marty Angelo's strategy involves extending a hand of friendship beyond the classroom.

Whether attending sporting events when students invite him or inquiring about their weekend activities, Angelo tries his best to offer support.

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It's about building relationships with students and their families, said Angelo, a sixth- grade math teacher at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin, where he has taught for 22 years.

"I try to connect with students through a variety of ways," Angelo said. "Sometimes, when I hear about an activity, I will surprise students by just showing up. I build relationships with them through their interests."

That interest in their personal lives matters to the 16 students in his class who often have endured traumatic experiences. Harriet Gifford is among the early adopters in Elgin Area School District U-46 of a trauma-informed care approach to teaching students of poverty and with multiple adverse childhood experiences.

"It's taking the time to try to understand where that behavior is coming from ... knowing what upsets or triggers them," Angelo said. "They have come a long way. We had a lot of personality conflicts at the beginning of the year."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This school year perhaps has been Angelo's most challenging after his wife, Melodie, was diagnosed with cancer and died in September. Angelo said it was hard taking two weeks off from teaching right at the beginning of the school year.

"This is such a critical part of the year to get the foundations started," he said. "As fifth-graders, many of them went through three teachers during the course of the year. 'Are you going to leave us, too?' was the first question when they came. That just crushed me."

Angelo cut short his mourning to return to the classroom because he didn't want his students to feel like he was abandoning them. Teaching also was therapeutic, he said.

"For many of these kids, school is probably their only refuge or safe place," Angelo said. "Some kids, they go home to an empty house (as) parents are working late. The older kids have to run the house, take care of younger siblings. That's a big responsibility. Those types of dynamics make things challenging here."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Getting involved with parents, connecting with students outside the school, even riding the bus home with them are ways Angelo builds trust with his wards.

"It gives them a sense of security that they get home safely," Angelo said. "They all know me. We have that rapport. Teachers and students all have the same needs. The only thing that separates us is our experiences."

When families don't have the means to make student goal-setting conferences, Angelo offers to meet them at a restaurant or makes a home visit.

For his dedication and service to his students, Angelo was recognized with a Chicago Bears/Symetra "Hero in the Classroom Award." Angelo was among 16 kindergarten through grade 12 teachers in the Chicago area honored during the 2018 NFL season. He was recognized at the Oct. 21 home game between the Bears and the New England Patriots.

During a surprise classroom visit in October, Chicago Bears board Chairman George McCaskey gave Angelo an array of prizes, including a $2,000 check for classroom books and supplies, Bears swag and tickets to a game at Soldier Field.

"I don't think about the extra things that I do as being a hero in the classroom," Angelo said. "It's just who I am, what I do."

Though his teaching techniques change with each new batch of students, one constant is Angelo's unwavering dedication to helping everyone.

He tailors rewards for good behavior, such as time for open gym, being on the computer or drawing, special lunch with him, homework passes, listening to music in class while working on assignments, or tickets to sporting events. He typically asks students what type of reward they would like to work toward and does a drawing each week.

"If they didn't really care about some of the reward opportunities, they aren't going to work too hard for it," Angelo said. "There are kids who are going to push and test it. It's also learning to pick your battles. Patience was something I learned over time."

Maintaining a calm and kind demeanor is key for students to feel comfortable and find him approachable, Angelo said.

"It's probably made me more relaxed. Some teachers get burned out over behavioral issues," Angelo said. "You just learn how to make adjustments to the behaviors and how you respond. It is very much like parenting. Our classroom is a family."

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