After more than two decades teaching French at the Lansing Central School District, Amanda Zerilli has decided to move onto the next chapter in her life.
Zerilli taught at the school district for a total of 23 years – four at the middle school and 19 at the high school. Prior to Lansing, she taught one year of Spanish in the Chenango Forks school district until she heard about a job opening in the French department in Lansing.
“I live in Ithaca, and I’d always been told Lansing was the best district to work,” Zerilli said. “I was just really fortunate when the job came up after I was only one year in Chenango Forks. I hated to leave them because they were really nice people; I worked in a great department. But I couldn’t turn [down] a French position in Lansing.”
Teaching AP French and senior-level French overall was Zerilli’s favorite. She had the opportunity to see the students’ language skills transform over the course of four years. The content of the AP course was intriguing as well. Zerilli described the course as “sociology in foreign language.”
“We will deal with the environment, we’ll deal with immigration, we’ll deal with sexual identity,” she said. “As soon as AP changed, it opened things up; it allowed us to explore interesting topics with students but explore them just in another language. … If you’re reading newspapers in Spanish and you’re listening to podcasts in French and looking at different videos and stuff in French, you also see other points of view.”
Raised in Long Island, Zerilli came to upstate New York in 1977 to study sociology at Ithaca College as an undergrad. Back then, she had no foreign language skills. Her parents spoke Italian, but they did not teach her and her siblings because they wanted them to be able to assimilate into American society as simply as possible. She actually failed French when she was in high school.
After graduating, she moved to Denver, CO, with her future husband and got a job as a carpenter. She worked for 10 years framing houses and doing exterior and interior trim. However, one day she had a thought.
“At a certain point while we were out there I thought, ‘You know, I’d like to learn another language,’” she said. “I had gone to Europe. I did spend a year in Amsterdam working in an office in Holland. I did not speak Dutch. I was very inhibited. But I just had that feel like I should learn another language. I shouldn’t be monolingual.”
She and her husband, along with their daughter, eventually moved back to Ithaca where she started taking language classes at SUNY Cortland in the early 1990s to receive her teaching certificates in French and Spanish.
Around 1999, Zerilli received a master’s degree in the teaching of French at SUNY Cortland. It certainly was not the typical path for someone wanting to become a professional teacher, but Zerilli has no regrets.
“You look at a career change, I always thought going into teaching I was 38 … and I thought it was great because I’ll never have enough time to get burnt out,” she said.
“There were no teachers in my family. So it wasn’t something that I considered, and to tell you the truth, when I started learning French – which was for personal reasons; I wanted to learn another language – when I went into teaching it was because I really loved French, and I wanted to be able to share that love of the language with students.”
Now that she is retired, Zerilli, who is an equestrian in her spare time, hopes to devote more hours to riding her horse. She plans on growing a lot of food from her and her husband’s garden, and to spend time enjoying the simple pleasures – cooking, reading and biking. She and her husband also plan on visiting their daughter and her husband in Pittsburgh, PA. Once the COVID-19 outbreak subsides and the Canadian border reopens, Zerilli wants to take a trip to Montreal.
She admits that she was never a “kid person,” though when reflecting back on her time as a teacher in the district, she said she developed a gratitude towards teenagers.
“Being able to work with adolescents … it gave me an appreciation,” she said. “I’d probably be a lot more cynical about the world if I didn’t work with adolescents and realize that, yeah, they have a lot of qualities that drive you crazy, but there were so many students that just generally really care. They care about their community, they care about people. They’re open-minded, they’re interested in the world and they want to solve problems.”