CEDAR GROVE, NJ - “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is Cedar Grove High School’s Michael Valenzano’s favorite quote to summarize his philosophy in the classroom, which is clearly reflected with his welcoming smile and his ability to reach his students on a personal level.
Widely known as “Mr. V.” to the students, Valenzano has utilized his past 13 years in the district to build a distinct relationship with the students by connecting with them through the gym, health room, and the driver’s seat.
Valenzano began his career at CGHS in May 2003, starting off with observing Phys. Ed. classes with Coach Ed Sadloch. He began teaching Phys. Ed. in September 2003 at Memorial Middle School. Growing up in Fairfield and attending West Essex High School, Valenzano completed his higher education at Montclair State University where he earned his Masters in Administration & Supervision.
As a student at West Essex High School, Valenzano was an active member of the baseball team.
“As a Phys. Ed and Health major, with the dual certification, there was a lot to do,” said Valenzano, recalling taking night classes during baseball season and gaining as many credits as possible. “They usually try to tell you it is a five year program, but I figured on my fifth year I could be working, earning, and living, so I worked hard to do it in four years.”
Valenzano, 35, returns home every day to his wife and two children, as he reflects on the current period of time in his life where family, career, and self-awareness come together.“My children will be 7 and 3 years old by the time the summer comes around,” he said. “It’s a good time of life.”
His office walls consist of baby and family pictures and many coaching metals he received over the years.
Aside from teaching Phys. Ed and Health, Valenzano is the only teacher in CGHS able to teach Driver’s Education, a unique course dedicated to teaching the basic skills of driving and enforcing safety regulations and guidelines for high school sophomores bound to take the wheel. From the beginning of freshman year, students await the first class of Driver’s Education. “Driver’s Ed is a clear favorite for me,” he said. “I always tell my students, that I get to teach them something they’ll use every day for the rest of their lives, which is rare to say.”
“He put a big emphasis on safety and being a responsible driver,” said sophomore, Katie Sickinger. However, Mr. V.’s influence exists beyond the teachings of being behind the wheel for the first time. “If you have any problems he’s willing to listen and help you solve them,” she continued.“What Mr. V. has taught me is something I’m going to use forever,” continued sophomore, Anthony Clarizio.
Valenzano refers to the most rewarding thing about teaching- “When students come back, it’s nice to hear them reaching the goals they had set for themselves; that and when students come back with that laminated piece of paper saying that they got their license.”
Many students expressed their admiration for Valenzano’s ability to truly connect with them.
Whether it is in the gym or in the health room, Valenzano seems to serve as a leader, whose advice is valued. “I view him as kind of a role model, and I really appreciate the things that he does for the kids in our school,” said senior, Chris Werndly.
“Knowing V. for the past four years now, if you ever need something you go to him. He would really help you out with anything,” said senior, Michael Matarazzo.
Valenzano stresses the importance of trust formulated with his students. For the past 13 years, he created relationships with growing teenagers who still keep in touch with him. “I think the most important part of my career is the relationships I’ve been able to establish with the students,” he said.
“A teacher needs to find it in themselves to lead every day,” said Valenzano. “And to make the students better, because that’s why we’re here.”
Rachel Bucchino and Tara Guaimano are seniors at Cedar Grove High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove. Verona and Cedar Grove High School students interested in participating in our journalism program can contact Jeanne Moreno at email@example.com.
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