Emilio Mazzola adds energy, humor to department

The Newtonite

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“I’m finally in charge of my destiny and that’s a grand moment,” said Italian teacher Emilio Mazzola

by Steven Michael
When the College Board planned the first ever Advanced Placement exam in Italian, the board selected Italian teacher Emilio Mazzola as one of the six teachers to design the nationwide test.
The College Board aimed to create a difficult exam, focusing on all aspects of Italian, including speaking, grammar, listening and reading comprehension—a course similar to what Mazzola already taught.
Of the six teachers—three high school teachers and three college professors—only Mazzola gave the full practice exam to his students. There were questions raised about the exam being too difficult.
The scores of Mazzola’s students were so impressive that when the inaugural AP Italian exam was offered the following year, the College Board measured students nationally against this school’s results.
“To me, that means he is the best Italian teacher in the country,” said English teacher Lyn Montague.
Mazzola, who has taught in the Newton Public Schools for 35 years, will retire at the end of this school year. He was born in San Donato V.C., Italy, one of Newton’s sister cities.
At the age of 14, Mazzola immigrated to the United States. In 1971, he graduated from Newton High School and attended Providence College, graduating in 1975 with a degree in Italian. In 1999, Mazzola earned his master’s degree in Italian Literature from Boston College.
One motivation to teach Italian was the opportunity to maintain his immigrant roots.
“In the 1970s, the concept of America as the melting pot began to disappear—we began to think of the salad bowl, not the melting pot,” he said.
The difference was that immigrants could keep their identities while adding to the whole, he said.
Mazzola began teaching Italian at F.A. Day Middle School in 1976 and moved to this school in 1982 as part of the restructuring of the school system.
“That move was important for my professional career,” he said. “It allowed me to go to an area of language teaching I never would have experienced in middle school.”
In the early 1990s, the world language department began to offer Italian at the honors level. Mazzola taught these honors classes at the fourth and fifth year level, including Advanced Placement.
Over the years, Mazzola has accompanied students on both the Italian exchange and the Spanish exchange. In 1997, he won the Paul E. Elicker Award for excellence in teaching.
Mazzola said teaching Italian at this school made him a better teacher overall. “Many times, we talk about students pushing the teacher. Students have pushed for my level of achievement.”
In teaching Italian here, Mazzola claims to have found the fountain of youth. “Working with young adults has meant slowing my aging process because you have to be ready for every class.”
To find joy in coming in each year, year after year, teachers have to “bring something new to the classroom,” Mazzola said.
“We like to share in their success. It’s nothing we can take home, but it’s an emotional boost to know somehow we were influential—we could make a difference for one student.”
Literature is an important part of the curriculum for Mazzola’s Italian classes. “It’s often difficult to put out individual texts for your lesson. In some classes we rely on excerpts for plurality and movement, but some texts are indispensable. Grammar allows us to communicate correctly, but reading is fundamental.
“Because we are at a higher level of language acquisition, we can afford to talk to some of the literary masters,” he said.
Mazzola also uses film to help his students learn. “A film opens a window where students can climb through and where a student is surrounded by visuals and meaningful and practical language.”
World language department head Nancy Marrinucci described Mazzola as vivacious, expressive, easy-going, collaborative, helpful and reliable.
“He builds strong relationships with students, is always positive with them and supports all students and their learning. His priority is to see that all of his students can successfully communicate in Italian, and when they do, he takes immeasurable pleasure in it.”
Marrinucci said that Mazzola adds life to the world language department through his passion, sense of humor and problem solving skills.
“In particular, Mazzola is known for his culinary skills. He has held lunchtime gatherings for students and faculty alike, with authentic Italian food and conversation, Marrinucci said.
“He made sure that no one read or did work at the table—even me. Everyone got the message from him that the table is not for reading—it’s for eating and discussing.”
After retirement, Mazzola will have more time for hobbies, such as reading and crosswords, he said.
“I’m about to be a teenager again,” he joked.
“First, I want to reclaim my Sunday. In the postmodern world, Sunday doesn’t mean anything, but I come from a generation where Sunday was a day off. I want to get Sunday back.
“I’m finally in charge of my destiny and that’s a grand moment. I’m not retiring, I’m turning a page.”