Mike Tramontana is Parkside's gym teacher and head of the arts and movement program.
Q: Why do you teach?
A: At first I wanted to become a teacher because I knew I wanted to have a family of my own, and I’ve seen many friends complain of “not having enough time” for their children. I thought having the same schedule as a child in school would increase my overall time with my future children, something that is very important to me. Now that my wife is pregnant with our first child, due in April, I’ll finally get to see if my plan worked.
Once I began teaching, I lost sight of that original idea. Ensuring the children in my class were always safe, smiling and having fun during gym became my priority.
Q: Why do you choose to teach at Parkside?
A: I never chose to work at Parkside. I feel like Parkside chose me. Before Parkside, I was working in a school that was not conducive to teacher development, experimentation or freedom to teach. Ms. Thorne and I had a phone conversation and I remember laughing so much and finding that we had very similar ideas about how to help create student success. After a few meetings and some demo lessons, Parkside chose me to for the privilege of walking into and leaving the building every day with a smile on my face.
I’m inspired by the professionals I work with every day. They challenge me to be a better educator. I’m also inspired by the children, especially when they work so hard to perform tasks that can be difficult and challenging even to adults. I hate to call Parkside a job, because that makes it sound like an obligation. Parkside, for me, is definitely not that. “If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
Q: How would you describe Parkside's students and families?
A: The parents at Parkside are very involved in finding the best opportunities and strategies to help their children grow. Some attend Parent Association meetings while others volunteer in the library or offer their homes for parent cocktail parties. I remember the first time I walked into Parkside; there was a parent sitting on the floor cutting some decorations for the upcoming holiday party. I remember thinking she was a teacher, and later found out she was a parent who volunteered much of her time to help with special events. Being able to interact with families every day makes me feel like I’m a part of something much bigger than just a school. It really is a large family here; parents, students and teachers who have the same goal in mind, working together all year around.
Q: What do you learn from your students?
A: I learn from our students how to be patient and work hard to find solutions so that each child can find their individual success. I love when a group can find success during an activity, but it really feels great when a child, who thought something was tough, or even impossible, finds individual success and achievement. I’ve also learned that kids are very honest, and really do say exactly what comes to mind. I shaved my beard a few weeks ago and one of the children came to me, touched my face, and said “Nah, you look better with hair on your face. Can you grow it back?” Of course I can.
Q: What are some of the things happening in the Art & Movement program that wouldn't be possible without the generous financial support of our community?
A: Having the opportunity to purchase new equipment for the gym and items for the Arts & Movement team -- books for the library, mats for yoga, props and instruments for music/drama and fresh tools for the art room-- is so important and really helps the teachers get more excited about teaching. In turn, the children become more excited to learn. Without the generous financial support from parents, alumni and friends, none of this is possible. There are many public schools in NYC where the arts and movement programs are the first to be cut when budgetary restraints present themselves. All of us in the department are so thankful to know how valued our work is to everyone in our community.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Parkside?
A: One of my favorite things about Parkside is the amount of support from administration, and other professionals in the building. I am able to try new things and not be afraid to implement new curriculum or unit plans. Having this freedom allows me and my fellow teachers to let the creative juices flow and really develop fun and exciting activities for our children on a daily basis. We have the trust of the administration to know that we have nothing but the best interest of the children in mind at all times.
Q: What do you think makes Parkside different from other schools who serve children with learning differences?
A: I’ve worked in many schools across New York and have never come across a school that provides as much support and early intervention as Parkside. The amount of communication between all professionals in the building shows the importance of our work, and the priority placed on each child. It’s hard to put into word what happens at Parkside, but I always tell people, especially parents, “Trust what happens behind those big red doors.”
Q: You're an active part of the Parkside community beyond your paid time in the classroom. Why is it important for you to give back to Parkside?
A: I believe it is important to show your support for any cause that interests you. My support goes to Parkside and our students because this is where change happens every day. Being a part of a community like Parkside is very rare. I’ve spoken to many people in the school system, even my own family members, and they can’t believe how connected we all are. They wonder how we’re on first-name basis with so many parents and how the staff can get together with alumni parents and still have a connection, even if it’s been years since we’ve seen one another. This is something about Parkside that makes it such a beautiful place to be. Everyone is here with a common goal in mind, and we all work together to make thing happen.