Each morning before Meghan Libertucci walks into work at Schenectady High School, where she has taught English since 2003, she takes a deep breath and starts the day anew.
“Every day is a fresh start,” she said.
Little did Libertucci know Thursday morning when she started the day with a fresh start, all the work she had put in at the school where she started her teaching career would pay off in a big surprise.
Shortly after 2 p.m., as Libertucci was leading a class of freshmen through a creative writing exercise, school Superintendent Larry Spring busted into the class with a long line of Libertucci’s colleagues and family in tow to present her with the district’s annual Teacher of the Year Award.
“I’m without words,” Libertucci said as her students applauded and released a collective, “Awww . . .”
Libertucci, who grew up in Clifton Park and graduated from Shenendehowa High School, said of Schenectady High School that she “wouldn’t go anywhere else” to teach. She became a National Board certified teacher in 2009 and has advised student groups from Students Against Drunk Driving to the entire class of 2019.
Her colleagues cited her as a role model and mentor, and an exemplar of patience, student care and leadership in the classroom.
“She makes it look effortless,” said special education teacher Denise Altschule, who co-teaches a class with Libertucci and nominated her for the prize. “She really does care for and have compassion for every kid in her class.”
Her students said she is fun, engaging and a trustworthy confidant.
“She is really understanding and one teacher that if you ever needed to talk about your problems, she would talk and give you her best advice,” ninth-grader Cassandra Ryan said.
Another ninth-grade student, Kamar Galloway, said “she’s so amazing and outgoing, and when you need her, she’s there for you.”
Spring cited Libertucci’s credentials and countless notes of support from other teachers and students, current and former. Her husband, parents, brother, uncle and other family members stood in the back of the class as the award presentation unfolded, and her two young kids beamed over an opportunity to see mom at work.
“What impresses me is she has demonstrated such expertise, such flexibility, such a willingness to engage with new and difficult work,” Spring said as he presented Libertucci with flowers and balloons.
After posing for a final burst of pictures and hugging and kissing her husband and kids goodbye, Libertucci turned back to her class, ready to plow forward. She plans to soon begin teaching the class of pre-International Baccalaureate students “To Kill a Mockingbird” — her favorite book but one she has never taught, she said.
In one corner of the classroom, an Instagram-themed display shows off pictures of her kids, while a Redbox-themed display in another corner lists classic and less-known books. Books about the civil rights movement sit on ledges and tables and useful breakdowns of story styles and literary elements are plastered on the walls.
“I don’t know if you can focus, but I can focus,” Libertucci said as she powered up the classroom Smart Board and got back to the reason she came to work Thursday morning — to teach.
The lesson was about story elements: setting, character and conflict. And the students were playing around with random combinations of different — and sometimes ridiculous — possibilities. After coming up with the combination as a class, the students were tasked with penning short fiction narratives.
Blasting through a list of potential lead characters, a small but vocal group of students pulled for “politician,” but the class ultimately landed on “princess.”
“The princess is in a scary house and she can’t stop sneezing,” Libertucci said. “You have five minutes, starting now.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.