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Being a role model the chance of lifetime

By MICHELE MILLER, Off / Beat
Published November 14, 2007


Today, grownups will venture back to school to take part in the Great American Teach-In.

They are different than they were when they sat in the student's seat. Life has given them experience and a greater sense of purpose as essential cogs in the life of the community.

So they will go to school and become one-day, one-hour teachers, telling kids about their work. How they got there. What kind of skills it takes to become something like a long-distance truck driver, a pilot, a doctor, a nurse, a grocery store baker or a politician.

That kind of stuff is well worth sharing with those who have yet to find their way and who could benefit from a little inspiration.

Teacher Shannon Arseneau was thinking along those lines when she asked Pasco County's school superintendent Heather Fiorentino to visit her classroom today to teach a math lesson.

Fiorentino, who was already scheduled to be at Cotee River Elementary to conduct a schoolwide lesson on how a bill becomes a law, said she was more than happy to pay a visit to Arseneau's third-grade classroom.

The two have known each other for more than 20 years. In those days, Fiorentino was a fifth-grade teacher at Mittye P. Locke Elementary who went by her maiden name "Miss Rose." Arseneau was a "Mahoney" back then, already catching the teaching bug as a student in that fifth-grade classroom.

"She was a role model. She was one of the reasons I went into teaching," Arseneau said. "When I think back now to what it was like to be a student in fifth grade I remember how she was one of those people you could talk to whenever. She always made you feel important. You knew you always had her full attention."

Many of those participating in the Great American Teach-In will do so because they remember that special someone - the role model that gave them some valuable insight as to what they wanted to be when they grew up.

For Fiorentino, one of those special people was her mother, Maggie Rose.

"I'm a former Army brat so we lived all over," Fiorentino said. "Before we moved anywhere, my mother would make her children study the culture. We learned a lot from that."

Her mother, who spent time teaching English in places like Japan and Korea, also gave some valuable advice that Fiorentino passes on every year to beginning teachers:

"My mother used to say that children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them leaves a lasting impression."

The advice holds true for anyone who works with children. Especially this week when those grownups heading back to school perhaps wonder if this one visit - whether it be for an hour or a day - can really make an impact.

It can.

It does.