Millennium’s biology teacher looks beyond the body and sees the whole student
By Emily Johnson
“Life is never dull in a high school, “ Bill LaMonte said with a smile, shouldering a bag full of graded tests and setting off through the mass of chattering students.
A beaded bracelet peeks out from his sleeve, a souvenir of his days working in a rural Tanzanian village for the Peace Corps. In the 10 years since then, teaching has taken him to China, India, the Bronx and finally to Millennium High School in the Financial District, where his impact over the last three years has made him one of this year’s Blackboard Award winners.
Bill LaMonte. Photo by Andrew Schwartz.
“I try to show my students what learning is really about,” LaMonte said. “A lot of times kids are so stuck in their bubble of iPods and subways and Starbucks. It’s not just the classroom, it’s the global perspective.”
It’s this focus on educating the whole person rather than simply teaching biology that has won the admiration of his students, their parents and his fellow teachers. “Mr LaMonte even inspires the parents,” one of his nominators wrote. “He has been incredibly supportive in helping [my son] with academic as well as social issues,” wrote another. Senior Star Estrella, 18, calls him her favorite teacher.
“He’s a really interactive teacher. It’s never, ‘Take out your textbooks and let’s take notes,’” said Estrella, who took his advanced biology class last year.
Estrella will attend DePauw University this fall on a full scholarship. LaMonte wrote a letter of recommendation for her application.
“Some teachers, when you’re not in their class anymore, they sort of forget you,” she said. “But when he sees me in the hall, he’s always like, ‘Hi, Star. How’re you doing, Star?’ It’s nice.”
As he walks through Millennium’s halls, he stops regularly to check in with the students he passes. “You going to really try today?” he asks one. “Smile!” he tells another, grinning until he elicits a giggle.
But in the classroom, his upbeat yet firm demeanor makes it clear who’s in charge.
“I think what is so impressive about him as a teacher is that when you walk into his classroom, more often than not you hear the students talking, not him,” said Sarah Petersen, a fellow Millennium teacher who was also posted to Tanzania with LaMonte in the Peace Corps.
Before he came to Millennium, he taught at a school in the Bronx where he worked with students to keep them out of trouble with the law. He also prepared a class of 7th graders for a high-school level standardized science test. Nearly all of them passed.
“He carried the breakdown of the scores around in his pocket for a while,” Petersen said. “He was so proud of them.”
LaMonte has been teaching in New York City long enough that he isn’t in danger of being let go in the new budget cuts, but he still worries about how the cuts will affect the schools.
“Every time we make that choice, it’s against the child’s best interest,” he said.
He says he was honored and surprised to be chosen for a Blackboard.
“And at the same time, slightly embarrassed too, because I know a lot of other teachers who deserve this recognition,” he said. “I work hard, that’s all I know. I love teaching. It’s a passion and it’s something I want to do until I die.”
Millennium High School
75 Broad St.