October 14, 2022

The Rossis teach a lesson that counts

Author: Molly Belmont
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Michelle and Anna Rossi
Caption: 'SUBTRACT HATE OR ADD LOVE...' Math educators Michelle and Anna Rossi. Photo by Molly Belmont.

For Michelle Rossi and her mother, Anna Rossi, there’s strength in numbers.

Anna is a math teacher, and growing up, Michelle begged to help her grade tests and quizzes. “She always said, ‘You’re not going to understand any of it,” Michelle recalls, laughing.

Now, they work side-by-side, teaching math in classrooms across the hall from one another at Oneonta High School, where Michelle was once a student.

“She never took any classes with me,” Anna teases. “She was too smart. She was in all the advanced classes.”

Recently, the Rossis sat down together to chat about teaching, math, and of course, family.

Anna has been a teacher for 37 years, 17 at Oneonta High School. “I always knew what I was going to do. I never had to decide,” she says. Her mother taught religious education classes, and she remembers sitting in the back of the room, pretending to be the teacher.

This is Michelle’s second year teaching at the high school. She discovered her interest in math early, and while she briefly considered other careers, she kept coming back to teaching. “I saw how loved my mother was by students, and I wanted to be that person in kids’ lives. I want to make a difference,” Michelle says.

Anna says she was not surprised by her daughter’s decision to teach. It was always clear to her that Michelle had a propensity for nurturing new skills. “She wanted to be around kids. She wanted to show people how to do stuff,” Anna says. “She was a lifeguard. She was teaching swim lessons. She was coaching volleyball. She helped with the softball team.”

And while some might shy away from sharing so much of their time with family — for the Rossis, it works.

“I’m not her mother here, I’m her colleague,” Anna says.

“We have a good relationship in our teaching. We can agree on things. We can co-plan,” Michelle says. Since she joined the staff, she has shared some fresh ideas with her mother about student development, and her mother, in turn, has helped bring her up to speed on the ins and outs of the profession. “We kind of balance each other out,” Michelle says.

Balance is the first rule of algebra, the subject they both teach; Anna covers Algebra I, and Algebra I part 2, and Michelle, Algebra I and Geometry.

Other common denominators? Both graduated from SUNY Oneonta, and both live locally. They are also both active members of the Oneonta Teachers Association – Anna for 17 years, Michelle for one. Both coach volleyball, an activity they say has helped them connect with students, making them more inclined to listen in the classroom when the Rossis go into detail about linear equations or quadratic systems.

They also have similar teaching styles. “Like me, she’s an in-charge kind of person. She wants to get things done. She’s efficient,” Anna says.

“She’s just very stern. A little sarcastic,” Michelle says.

“Sure of myself,” Anna clarifies.

“Well, you’re always sure of yourself,” Michelle says. Anna laughs. “Some people are just made to be teachers.”

“It takes a certain person to be able to do it well,” Michelle continues. “And I just think we have that personality of being in control and being organized, and passionate about what we’re doing, and I think that’s important. That’s what makes a difference between your good teachers and your better teachers.”

“She’s much more well-spoken than me,” Anna says with evident pride.

Michelle demurs. “I just think we were meant to be teachers.”