EduGator who nearly dropped out of school is named county’s top teacher
A UF College of Education alumnus who almost dropped out of high school is Alachua County’s 2011 Teacher of the Year.
Gainesville social studies teacher Michael Testa (MEd ’05, social studies ed, EdS ’09, ed admin/leadership) was named the top teacher for the school district in UF’s home county. He teaches AP government and politics at Buchholz High, his alma mater. He is involved in numerous extracurricular activities at the school, including the drama program and student government. He also volunteers in the community through the Alachua County Humane Society, Haile’s Angels, a youth hockey league, and other organizations.
He will represent Alachua County this summer in the Florida Teacher of the Year program.
Testa earned his high school diploma from Buchholz in 1999, but it was a rocky road to graduation. His family had moved from Buffalo, N.Y., for his freshman year, and the transition was tough. It was a teacher at Buchholz who convinced him to stay in school and inspired him to become a teacher.
“He helped to turn it around and helped make me the man I am today,” said Testa. “So I want to be with the kids, seeing the joy they get when they learn something and achieve something and helping them out in life.”
Testa says he wants to inspire all of his students, even those who have given up on themselves. During his award acceptance speech at the county’s recent Teacher Recognition Program, he talked about one failing student with a difficult home life who resisted his efforts to engage him in class. But at the end of the year, that same student thanked Testa for refusing to give up on him. A sign that reads “I will never give up on you’ now hangs in a prominent spot in Testa’s classroom.
“I will never forget that moment and I keep that in mind every day,” he said. “I love my students and I pledge never to give up on them.”
Testa’s determination to engage his students is obvious. He dons a white wig, a giant hand and bangs a gavel on his lectern for his daily ‘Court of Doom’ activity. He plays music, does voices, tells funny stories–whatever it takes to interest students in the lesson.
“I have no shame,” said Testa. “I never hesitate to make a fool out of myself because I am willing to do anything in my power to keep my students engaged, learning, comfortable and wanting to come to class.”
He says his college experience at UF “really helped prepare me for the real-life experience. I was able to participate in an internship and study with the best professors to learn as much as I could and apply it to various real-life situations.”
Testa cited UF education professor Elizabeth Washington (social studies education) and—from educational administration/leadership—professors Linda Eldridge and Craig Wood and research fellow Phillip Morris for their mentorship and support “in training me as an effective leader.”
See related story in The Gainesville Sun: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20110217/ARTICLES/110219493/1169
Writer: Jackie Johnson, public information officer, School Board of Alachua County, 352-955-7253 (x-228); email@example.com
Contributing Writer/UFCOE Media Contact: Larry Lansford, director, UFCOE News & Communications, 352-273-4137; firstname.lastname@example.org