SUMMIT IN ACTION · TEACHER VOICES

Teacher Spotlight: Colette Carrabba at Chester County Junior High School in Tennessee

It’s hard to go unnoticed in Dr. Colette Carrabba’s classroom.

The science teacher at Chester County Junior High School is in constant movement during a class, walking between tables to work with students on their science projects and provide further instruction as needed.

It’s also hard to stay silent in her class. Whether her eighth-graders like it or not, they will find themselves speaking and presenting their ideas to classmates often throughout the school year. 

“I understand that many aren’t comfortable with public speaking, but the only way to overcome your discomfort is by actually jumping in and doing it,” Carrabba said. “We also have some fun with it, and be silly at times to make students feel more comfortable. 

“Just as long as they get up and say something, I’m happy. You can really start to see how it makes a big difference. Boosts them up.”

The daily positivity that Carrabba spreads in her classroom reverberates throughout the tight-knit school in Henderson, Tennessee. Dr. Belinda Anderson, the Principal at CCJHS, said Carrabba has been a valuable mentor to younger teachers and rarely goes through a day without offering help to a colleague in some way.

“If you need something and she has it, it’s yours,” Anderson said. “She is absolutely one of the best humans you will ever meet. But beyond that, she’s just an incredible teacher. She doesn’t stop growing. She’s one of those people who is excited about learning all of the time and it’s seen every day in the way she teaches her kids.”

Carrabba’s passion for education has led to her being the latest recipient of Summit Learning’s monthly Teacher Spotlight honor, which celebrates those who go above and beyond to provide meaningful learning experiences for their students.

A big part of Carrabba’s engaging teaching style goes back to her own childhood experience in New Jersey. Carrabba remembers what it felt like to not want to speak in front of the class and how that affected her learning mindset. 

“I never wanted to say a word in school because I was afraid I would always be wrong, you know?” Carrabba said. “And I share that with my students and I tell them I was like that when I was their age. I remind them all the time that you’re not the only one with that certain question.”

To illustrate this, Carrabba will often answer a question from a student with a question for the whole class.

“I’ll look around the room after someone asks something, and I’ll go, ‘All right, how many of you actually were thinking the same question in your head?’” Carrabba said. “And several of them will raise their hands because they realize they were thinking that, too, but were too afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid. There are no wrong questions in my class.” 

Carrabba, who initially taught math and history classes when first becoming an educator, has found her niche in science. She loves sharing science experiments with her students, and is always on the lookout for cool gadgets to add to her collection. 

In the back corner of her class is a nondescript door that opens to a spacious closet packed with learning materials and science supplies. 

“This holds all my treasures,” said Carrabba, pointing out the bowling ball and skateboard that she uses to teach Newton’s laws of motion. “Seeing things visually is more impactful than just reading about it or watching a video about it. Science is all about labs. 

“You can’t just read about science on a computer and understand it. You have to experience it. You have to immerse yourself in it. By doing labs and activities that are hands-on, the kids get an opportunity to do that.”

Carrabba, who proudly describes herself as a “Jersey girl,” acknowledges that life in Chester County has slowed her down “a little.” But she still keeps a fast pace in her classroom, including using a countdown timer to transition her students from one segment to the next. 

“I’m still a ‘Type A’ personality, that part hasn’t changed,” Carrabba said. “I’ve never been one to just sit behind my desk all day. I like moving around and talking to the kids. I always think that if I’m bored with something during class, I know they’re bored. So we keep things moving.”

Of course, Carrabba knows that there are those times during class when it’s necessary to provide stationary instruction that involves silent listening and reading. But she always makes sure her students are aware that it’s all part of the learning journey—and offers previews of the enjoyable activities ahead.

“I tell them, ‘Look, I know this can be draining at times, but once we get through this, we can move on to the fun stuff,’” Carrabba said. “I just love science so much and I hope that passion rubs off on my students.”

Do you know a Summit Learning teacher who is going above and beyond to support their students? If so, please nominate them to receive the Summit Learning Teacher Spotlight through this form.

About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.