Schalmont elementary teacher living the best of both worlds
Passing it on
ROTTERDAM If it hadn’t been for the loss of a grant, Marty Rossner may not have ended up as a teacher.
Rossner’s previous career was as a technician making microscope slides for heart and cancer research at Albany Medical Center. The hospital lost its grant funding in favor of AIDS research in the 1990s, so she sat down with her husband and decided to go back to school to become a teacher — her first love.
Nearly 20 years later, she is able to bring her love of science to students at Jefferson Elementary School in the Schalmont Central School District.
“I am glad I chose the path that I did,” she said.
Rossner had actually thought about becoming a teacher, but her counselors talked her out of it in high school because there was a huge influx of people going into that profession. Not many women were studying science, so she was pushed in the direction of her second love.
Rossner uses her science background to get students interested. Students are very inquisitive at this age, she said.
“I don’t ever have a moment when I don’t have someone raising their hands and asking questions,” she said.
On Wednesday, Rossner was teaching her third-grade students about the different types of clouds — cirrus, cumulus and stratus. The students learned that cirrus clouds look like horses’ tails, cumulus clouds look like cauliflower — or “squished-up marsh mellows,” as one student put it — and stratus clouds are the low-lying ones that fill the sky during storms or the wintertime.
Grace Clark, 9, was really enjoying the lesson. She said she is interested in becoming a meteorologist. When asked how long she was interested in that career, she said, “Just now.”
Rossner reviewed the terms on a slideshow on the Promethean electronic white board, then showed a short video with images and narration about the clouds she had downloaded off the Internet. Afterward, students were using cotton balls and gluing them to paper to design the different types of clouds.
Rossner said she was one of the early adopters of the electronic white boards that allow teachers to draw, move items around and connect to the Internet.
“I use it for absolutely everything,” she said.
Her chalkboard is covered with pictures and posters. She left a small area of it uncovered as a security blanket, but it doesn’t get used.
“I was a visual learner. I would have loved to have something like that. If you struggle with reading, who wants to look at a textbook about weather, when I can actually show it to them firsthand?” she said.
Rossner became enamored of the new technology when she saw it at a couple of education conferences. She wrote a grant and was able to obtain funding through the district’s in-house Teacher Center to buy the white boards.
Eight-year-old Hayden McGarry, a self-professed “science kid,” said the technology is pretty cool.
“As soon as you put the pen on and touch the board, it just writes,” he said.
It’s not all about technology, though. Rossner stresses building relationships with the students. She and another staff member, Amy Glick, “loop” the same group of students through third and fourth grade, with each teaching alternating grade levels. It was a bit of an adjustment when Rossner started the practice about seven years ago because she had taught third grade for 10 years. Rossner said it is fun to flip between third and fourth grade every year, and she builds familiarity with the students.
“When I have them in fourth grade, they already know my rules, the homework. I don’t change very much, so I can start literally the first day,” she said.
She added that she believes students gain confidence during those two years with the same teacher. When they enter fifth grade at the middle school, they are ready to go.
“I feel like I’ve developed incredible relationships with the whole family, which I think help, and I think the parents are more comfortable if there’s a problem,” she said.
She enjoys being that person the children can turn to if they need to talk about something.
Rossner, 57, is married to husband Frank and has two adult daughters. When she is not teaching, she enjoys traveling and playing golf. During the summer, she works in a laboratory to continue using those research technician skills.
“It just keeps you refreshed, and I’m actually glad I have both careers,” she said.
As for her first name, her father’s sister was named Martha but he didn’t like that name, so he named her Marty. She said that some people believe a man is arriving for an appointment.
“All the time it happens to me,” she said.
Rossner’s advice for prospective teachers is to enjoy and embrace the constant changes, such as the new Common Core curriculum.
“You just really have to come and make it your own. Through technology, there’s so much you can find. The key is keeping the kids engaged,” she said.