A self-proclaimed “mother hen” who sees her role as not only a teacher, but as a protector of cultures has been named the 2021-2022 Carrollton City Schools Teacher of the Year.
Carrollton Junior High School ESOL teacher Vanessa Cataldo received the top honor and was recognized along with three others – Shelley Amandolia, Kaley Blankinship, and Robby Blakemore, Teachers of the Year at Carrollton Elementary, Carrollton Upper Elementary and Carrollton High School, respectively.
The announcement was made at the Oct. 5 Carrollton Board of Education monthly meeting, held at the Mabry Center for the Arts. Cataldo, clearly surprised by the announcement, was almost speechless. In short remarks, she concluded: “It didn’t take long for me to realize I had become part of an elite school system and I am grateful for the opportunity to work here.”
Last spring, each school announced its school-level representative to serve this school year. From that pool of candidates, a district team studied applications and evaluated the teachers in their classroom settings to decide which one will represent Carrollton City Schools at state.
“All of these teachers are talented educators and we are grateful they are part of our team,” said Dr. Mark Albertus, superintendent. “But we can only select one at the district level. Ms. Cataldo will represent Carrollton City Schools very well.”
Dr. Albertus also noted the generosity of community sponsors that allowed for each teacher to receive a monetary award. Sponsors were Carrollton Office Equipment, West Georgia Cornhole, and ValuTeachers.
“Our community sponsors allow us to make this event even more special,” said Dr. Albertus. “We appreciate their commitment to our school system and supporting our teachers in this way.”
Cataldo is an ESOL, or English to Speakers of Other Languages, teacher who said a high school internship opened her eyes to an education opportunity that honors the intrinsic value of multiculturalism.
“With college getting closer, I knew I wanted to major in education but did not know what I wanted to teach,” said Cataldo, who was attending her ninth school at the time, Collins Hill High School in Cobb County, when she took the Careers in Education course. “I had an internship at an elementary school for eight weeks and was placed in an ESOL class working with first graders. Mrs. Zakis, the teacher, was Cuban and spoke Spanish. She had been raised bilingual and bicultural like me; it was the first time I had ever had an educator who shared a similar background.”
Cataldo, who is a native of Puerto Rico, said being a bilingual and bicultural teacher placed her in the unique position of serving her students beyond classroom walls.
“I quickly discovered during my first year as a teacher that the need was great for a Spanish speaker who could communicate with Hispanic students and their families, and this has continued to be true throughout my career,” she said. “I have learned that most parents want to be involved in their children’s education but don’t know what to do or how to help. Many are afraid of the language barrier or do not understand the cultural differences.”
Cataldo said a universal desire among parents (and many teachers like herself) is to be a “mother hen” providing nourishment and warmth for their children, but not being able to communicate with teachers and schools can greatly affect their ability to do so.
“I get a thrill from helping parents and caregivers in this situation,” she said. “The relief that floods in their faces when they realize they can be heard and understood without things being ‘lost in translation’ is priceless. The relationships I have built with my students and their families have granted me a front row seat to understanding how to best teach them and advocate for them.”
Cataldo, who entered her 11th year teaching this year, is in her third year at CJHS. During her short time, she impressed her peers so much that they voted her to be their Teacher of the Year representative for 2021-2022.
Travis Thomaston, principal of CJHS, notes Cataldo ensures her students not only achieve communicative competence but academic competence as well.
“She is one of those teachers whose influence reaches far beyond the classroom,” he said. “Her personal integrity and high moral character serve as a model for all students and teachers. While many educators teach quality lessons, Ms. Cataldo is the lesson for her students.”
Thomaston said last Christmas, Cataldo provided Trojan #bilingual T-shirts for her students, making them feel special, included – and cool.
“Mrs. Cataldo not only serves in the role of ESOL teacher, she is a liaison between school and families in our community,” said Thomaston. “She is the go-to for connecting our families with our school in regards to relationships. She not only serves our students, but other Spanish-speaking students and families in our community by helping them navigate challenges. Landing this educator two years ago was an absolute grand slam for our school.”