PUNXSUTAWNEY — For 36 years, Patti Spinelli has been a teacher — a goal she first recognized at age 16.
Monday, Spinelli, a fourth-grade standard language and reading teacher at Punxsutawney Area Middle School, was awarded for her hard work, being named The Punxsutawney Spirit's “Teacher of the Year” at PAMS.
Spinelli said she was surprised when she received her award Monday morning during the fourth-grade track and field day that was held at Jack LaMarca Memorial Stadium.
"I was shocked when I was approached by Mr. (Rich) Britten, the principal, along with the people from The Spirit with the balloons and plaque," Spinelli said.
Spinelli attended IUP for her undergraduate studies, and IUP and Clarion for her graduate courses.
"When I was growing up I always played teacher as a child. When I was 16 years old I knew that I wanted to be a teacher — sometimes I wonder why," she said with a chuckle.
Spinelli said that students have changed a lot over her 36 years of teaching.
Technology is the biggest change, with students entering school with a lot more knowledge than they used start out with, she said, adding that, surprisingly, the behavior of students hasn't changed that much.
"There have always been students with behavior problems," Spinelli said. "I'm lucky I have really good kids in my class, and I want to thank them for voting me ‘Teacher of the Year.’"
Spinelli said since fourth-grade moved to the middle school, the students do change classes and have different teachers for different subjects.
"I think that helps the students. If they don't connect with one teacher, hopefully they'll connect with one of the others," Spinelli said, adding that when she taught fourth grade at Parkview in Anita, students didn't change teachers for different subjects.
Spinelli also taught Title I for 21 years, which is a federally funded reading and math support for students who require extra help with those two subjects.
"Some of the kids I helped in Title I math went on to become engineers," Spinelli said. "Because a student participates in a tutoring program, that doesn't mean they won't be successful in life.“
Sometimes all a student needs is just that little boost that will help him or her become successful, she said.
"I, too, was a slow student. I was not a high achiever. It was due to perseverance that I was able to become a teacher," Spinelli said. "It wasn't until I was a senior in high school before school started to click for me."
Spinelli said she always tells her students that they can become successful if they continue to work hard in school and never give up.
Fourth grade is her favorite age group to teach, after having taught kindergarten through sixth grade.
"I've taught reading and math in all of those grades," Spinelli said, adding that fourth grade is a nice age, because the students are old enough to take direction and complete a task on their own.
Fourth-grade students are not yet at the place where they think they know more than the teacher, she said.
Spinelli said she was grateful to all of the students and parents who voted her as “Teacher of the Year” at the middle school.