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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston Alumnus named Educator of the Year

As the late Tim Russert’s commencement address came to a close, the anticipation for the distribution of diplomas grew. Sitting amongst some of her best friends, her proud family members, and thousands of other graduates, one UMass Boston student had great things in her eyes as she readied herself to ascend the steps of the stage at the Bayside Expo Center in 2002. As she shook the hand of then-interim-Chancellor Jo Ann Gora, she realized that her time at UMass Boston was complete and that she was on her way towards her dreams of becoming an elementary education teacher. Over a half-decade later, UMass Boston alumnus Jill Generazzo is accepting another type of award: she is the recipient of the Knowledge Early Educator of the Year award, one of only five in the entire country.

Generazzo is currently a kindergarten teacher at the Kindercare Learning Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, where she has worked for the past five years. After being nominated by administrators and fellow colleagues, she earned the distinct honor after a year-long process, which began with a candidate pool of over 42,000 educators nationwide. Her dedication to education and the well being of her students has allowed Generazzo to excel above and beyond in the field of education. Her commitment to her students remains unmatched in many school systems, a commitment that she prides herself on. “I spend a lot of time getting to know my students and their parents,” the Wakefield resident explains. “I like to make the children feel safe and comfortable because I feel that when a child feels safe at school, they can really focus on [his or her] schoolwork.”

Jill Generazzo officially began her journey towards her degree in teaching when she enrolled as full-time student at UMass Boston in 1997, although she remembers wanting to lead a classroom from a much earlier age. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she remembers, adding with a laugh, “I used to play school all the time in my basement by making my younger sisters do ‘homework’ and I’d correct it!”

Generazzo declared her major in Sociology and Early Education and, upon graduation from UMass Boston in 2002, earned her Masters in Education from Cambridge College. She credits UMass Boston with helping her gain invaluable experience both in and out of the classroom. “My favorite part of my UMass Boston experience was my student teaching…I worked full-time at the Devens School in Everett as part of my course load and earned credits for it,” she explains. “I learned so much in those four months of teaching…and I was able to see the ‘real teaching world’ in a way that sitting in a lecture hall taking notes perhaps couldn’t offer.” And although those lecture hours that she painstakingly put in weren’t always her favorite part of college, she admits that UMass Boston helped her to become a more well-rounded and better prepared teacher. “[UMass Boston] makes you take classes that I normally probably wouldn’t have taken…like the course on teaching a Math class,” she recalls. And even though at the time it may have seemed futile, ultimately, Generazzo says, “that course gave me the foundation to write my math curriculums and showed us things that I was definitely grateful for when I went to grad school”

To Mrs. Generazzo, teaching is a passion that she holds very dear. Whether it is a new art project or a special twist on a learning activity, she always makes learning a fun and integrative experience, whether she is teaching kindergarteners or sixth graders. She also has been known to, on many occasions, venture to places like the local pizza parlor or flower nursery for materials for a lesson plan. “My husband, John, who I’ve been with for over 15 years, has been wonderful…he hasn’t complained too much when we have to go out and get supplies or find something special for a special project,” she laughs.

In addition to her husband, to whom she has been married for four years, Jill says that many people have contributed to her success in teaching and have helped give her the confidence to be creative and innovative in her teaching. “I owe a lot to my whole family for always being there for me and encouraging me to keep at it,” she says. Additionally she remembers how her own experiences as a young student have shaped her teaching methods and approaches to education today. “I was inspired to get into teaching by some wonderful elementary school teachers, all of whom I borrow techniques from today,” she remembers. Her first and third grade teachers in particular gave her the courage to stand up in front of a classroom and run the show when she worked with them during her student teaching experiences. “I was lucky enough to do some of my student teaching with Ms. Fields and Mrs. McNeil and I still use the little details from their classrooms,” she says, adding that the little extras like classroom buddies, the prize box, and stickers that helped her when she was in elementary school have stuck around in her classroom. “If my students have a strong positive experience now, like I had when I was their age, it will set them up to be lifelong learners.”

In addition to the tremendous honor of being named one of the nations top educators, Generazzo also received $10,000 and a trip to the NAYCE convention, an early childhood education expo, in Dallas, Texas. And while the accolades for her outstanding teaching performance have been the icing on the cake, Jill is not done conquering the academic world. In addition to possibly going to back to school to receive her CAGS and Doctorate, she says that she would love the next chapter in her life to bring her back to where she started. “I would love to get back into the public school system,” she says, adding that budget cuts led to her getting laid off in the Everett Public School System. “I think it would pose a new challenge for me that I am ready for.”

Armed with her continuously growing love of knowledge and her enthusiasm for transforming young minds, she is ready for whatever life may throw her way. “Throughout everything, I’ve learned that teaching can be so fun and that if you give it your all and sometimes step out of the box, your students will benefit from it,” she says prophetically. She also says that, although teaching is about displaying patience and authority, and it presents many difficult challenges, her real life experiences with skinned knees, frustrated readers, and school-yard antics has taught her that “sometimes you just have to laugh.” To Generazzo, teaching has been not only about instructing her students, but also about learning new things about herself everyday.

About the Contributor
Amy Julian served as the arts editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2008-2009;