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St. Petersburg Times

The End Of The Beginning


June 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved. 

TAMPA -- Editor's note: To understand the challenges first-year teachers face, North of Tampa followed the progress of three rookie teachers at the launch of their careers. This is the last of a four-part series.

They'll never be rookies again.

Pablo Alvarez, Adrianne Hall and Daisy Questell, first-year teachers all, closed the books, packed up their lesson plans and said goodbye last week to what most educators agree is the most difficult 200 days in a teacher's career.

They began the year wide-eyed and wondering what life would be like on the other side of the teacher-student equation. Alvarez and Hall were fresh out of the University of South Florida, while Questell was making a mid-career metamorphosis.

For the first time, they were the ones taking roll, offering instruction and grading students. They were the ones responsible for the growth of young minds and bodies. And for a while, at least, they had no idea what the future held.

Now, they do. They don't know it all, but they know enough to realize that they made the right decision. They are teachers now, and they'll be teachers for some time to come.

"I'll definitely be in it for a while," said Hall, who taught world history at Sickles High School this year and plans to pursue a master's degree at USF in the fall. "I definitely want to stay in the education business, although I don't see myself as a classroom teacher for the next 25 years."

Hall said she hopes furthering her education might one day lead to an administration job, though she's in no hurry.

"I love telling people that I'm a high school teacher," said Hall, who is transferring to Middleton High School next year. "Especially a history teacher. People say, "Oooh, you must be really smart.' And it's funny because a lot of people think I'm in high school. It's kind of fun to see the amazement on their faces."

Hall said that, even though she could measure her successes throughout the year, she didn't realize how right she was for the job until a recent Sunday school session. The leader asked everyone to think about ways in which God had blessed them.

"I thought about it, and it just hit me: I love to teach," Hall said. In that moment, she realized that teaching was more than her profession. It was her calling.

For Alvarez, a physical education teacher at Bellamy Elementary, his breakthrough moment came early in the year. Alvarez, who grew up viewing his own PE teachers as father figures, chose his specialty because he felt it was the best way he could make a difference in young lives, the way his coaches had made a difference in his.

"There was a kid in the fourth grade, this girl named Heather, and I gave her a B after the first grading period," Alvarez recalled. "She used my class as her social time."

The girl had gotten all A's in her other subjects, and the B kept her off the high honor roll. Heather's mother was not amused. She came to school to speak to Alvarez, to ask him to reconsider the grade. "I said, "Ma'am, I could give her an A if you want, but she doesn't deserve it. She doesn't show me effort,' " Alvarez said. "Since that day she became the best student in my class. I refused to change the grade, and I'm really happy I did. Her attitude totally changed."

Alvarez made an impact on children beyond the playing fields, too. A native of Spain, he helped Spanish-speaking kids with their English. He tutored other students in reading. He worked the student drop-off and pick-up area and did lunchroom duty. He became part of the fabric of a close-knit school.

"It's like a family here, not just a bunch of co-workers," said Phil Ambrozy, Bellamy's other PE teacher who shared cramped quarters with Alvarez all year. "The teachers paid him the ultimate compliment in that, even though it was his first year, they treated him like he'd been here for years."

Daisy Questell ran a tight ship in her business computing and keyboarding class at Liberty Middle School. Every day, she wrote instructions for the day's work on the bulletin board so her students could get right to work.

On Thursday, the last day of school, she finally cut them a little slack. The chalkboard read: 1) Go to your computers. 2) Free time! 3) Have a wonderful summer.

That's what Questell plans to do. "I'm going to go home and do nothing," Questell said. "No, I'm just kidding. I've got a training session the first week of June." But after that, she said, Questell plans to kick back.

"I'm tired," she admitted. "With all of the end of the year preparations, all of the paper work, the awards celebrations and everything, it's a lot of work. I've been very busy."

Questell surmised that she'd be busy this year, but she knows things will be better next year. Starting from scratch, she created lessons out of whole cloth, always trying to stay a step ahead of the next project. Now, she'll be able to rely on those lessons next year, refining what she teaches based on the foundation she's already laid.

Not that there weren't other frustrations as well. "I've been frustrated with some of the parents," Questell said. "Some of them believe their little angel's stories. Sometimes that's been frustrating. One other called me a racist, and I'm not. With this accent, how could I be a racist."

Questell, a native of Puerto Rico, speaks with a recognizable Caribbean accent.

Questell said she's looking forward to a late summer family trip to Disney World, and some down time to recharge her batteries. But she said she's eager to return to Liberty in the fall, where her job is secure. "It's been very rewarding," she said.

Hall said she wants to visit Washington, D.C., New York City and Miami over the summer, scheduling trips around her three-nights-a-week teaching job at a Sylvan Learning Center. "I'd like to sit back with an iced tea on the beach," Hall said. "But unfortunately, I have bills to pay."

Alvarez does, too (which is why he also works a second job running an after-school program), but he's making time this summer to take his fiancee to meet his family in Spain. He's still unsure about his future at Bellamy, having filled a temporary position this year.

But he, too, wants to come back to where his career as a teacher started.

"I think it's great," Alvarez said. "If you can deal with the pay, and you like the kids, that's all it takes."

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at

Adrianne Hall locks her classroom door Friday at Sickles High School as she completes her first year of teaching. She will be transferring to Middleton High School for the next school year.

Liberty Middle School teacher Daisy Questell signs a yearbook for Rachel Hilbert, 13, on the last day of school. Questell finished her first year teaching business computing and keyboarding.

Bellamy Elementary School teacher Pablo Alvarez stands in the doorway of the office he shares with fellow coach Phil Ambrozy on the last day of school. Although he was filling a temporary position, Alvarez hopes to teach at Bellamy again next year.

Adrianne Hall checks out at the Sickles High School media center on Friday. She will continue teaching during the summer.

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