A teacher in contact with her students
By John Silberholz
Name: Maria Costello
Education: University of Puerto Rico
Year started at Blair: 1988
Previous Work Experience: Taught math in Puerto Rico for 14 years
Hobbies: Exercising, reading
Strum, Strum. Quietly but persistently, a lone guitar sings a song to
all nearby. The melody seems out of place, alone, and the musician
oblivious to his surroundings. Suddenly, a second pair of hands grabs
the guitar, and wrench it from the owner's grasp. In a swift movement,
the intruder swings the instrument through the air, straight at the
guitarist's head. At the last moment, the attacker changes course, and
the guitar instead smashes into a thousand pieces on the floor.
This is no violent street assault or bizarre circus act. Instead, it is an incident in Maria Costello's math class. Despite repeated warnings from the teacher, the guitarist had continued serenading the class and accordingly received a swift punishment. Although few of Costello's students experience such dramatic episodes in class, this emphatic and enthusiastic teacher has touched many of her pupils through her instruction.
Ever since her youth in New York City, Costello has aspired to become a
teacher. "As a kid, I used to teach my dolls," she explains, flashing a bright smile.
Her desire to teach was fueled by her excellent academic performance. "I finished my [math] textbook halfway through the year," she explains, her long, red fingernails clicking together. "I was in all the GT (Gifted and Talented) programs. I went to a magnet Catholic school."
Costello attributes her outstanding performance to "strict parents," who prevented her from regularly socializing with friends and ensured that she completed her schoolwork. She recalls that she didn't have lots of friends in school. She kissed a boy for the first time in her junior year of high school, and did not go on a date until her senior prom.
The Beginning of a Teaching Career
After high school graduation, Costello moved from New York to Puerto Rico to attend college at the University of Puerto Rico. She didn't find college very difficult, and explains that American schools are more rigorous than those in Puerto Rico. Costello's largest challenge in college was mastering the Spanish language, which she didn't speak
fluently when she arrived.
After completing several years of college, she began to teach while still attending the university. During her first few years as an instructor, Costello recalls experiencing control problems with the boys in her classes, since she was a new teacher and didn't discipline students enough. "It was crazy," she says, shaking her head slowly. "Some of the guys [even] tried asking me out."
However, a smile again plays across Costello's face as she discusses the improvements she implemented in subsequent years to establish more
discipline in her classroom. She maintained classroom order by setting
ground rules at the beginning of the year and reprimanding misbehaving
pupils. The adjustments paid off, and Costello was able to preserve a
calm and productive learning environment, except, of course, for the
occasional guitar-bashing session.
Costello returned to the United States in 1986, and settled in the
Washington, D.C. area. In 1988, she landed her current job in the Blair math department.
Costello says that she loves teaching math, and that the most rewarding
aspect of educating is when pupils, especially the troublemakers, respond to her instruction.
At Blair, she is pleased with her pupils' behavior. "[Students] are
behaved very well," she says. "I have a powerful voice. I'm all over
[students], making eye contact and physical contact. I'll put a hand on their shoulder to support them and get them working."
When Costello isn't busy with schoolwork, she spends time on other
activities she loves, like reading novels by her favorite authors James
Patterson and Karen Kingsbury and working out to stay fit.
A Look to the Future
Several years ago, Costello accepted a new position at Blair, which
involves setting math curriculum instead of teaching courses during the
school year. She helps teachers prepare lesson plans and "pares down"
the Blair curriculum to focus on material emphasized on standardized
tests. She currently teaches classes only in summer school.
Although Costello generally deals directly with teachers rather than
students now, she feels that she is impacting pupils even more in her new job, by helping them to succeed on exams and by ensuring that the
objectives they learn are more compatible with county and state
Costello looks forward to aiding many more math students in coming
years. Although there may be few additional classroom teaching
assignments in her future, Costello will remain in contact with Blair's
students, and continue to reach pupils in new and different ways.