A Zito-less Environment


Anna Finley

Zito will be saying a bittersweet goodbye to the only school he has ever taught in

Rosie Eldridge and Anna Tranium, Sentry Staff Reporter

After 29 memorable years of teaching biology, and then Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science for the past 12 years, teacher Michael Zito will be saying a bittersweet goodbye to the first and only school he has ever taught at. In the near future we can expect to see him exploring the world and completing everything on his expansive list of things to do after retiring.

Zito did not always know that he wanted to teach, but at a young age he developed a passion for science and a love for nature.

“I liked science, I like being outside, I liked walking in the woods, I liked playing with animals. Really young, I [knew that I] wanted to do science of some sort…. My toys were science. Before we had stores where you could buy anything, one of my favorite Christmas presents was the ‘Discovery of the Month Club.’ Every month throughout the year I would get a tube or a box with toys in it to build something science-y…. My parents fed my love of science,” Zito said.

Although Zito was fascinated with science, he was unsure about where it would lead him in his career path. It took a bit of trial and error before he figured out what he actually wanted to do. He began in a lab doing research, but then realized that he wanted something more interactive.

“Teaching is a second career. I was a cytogenetic toxicologist. It was nice when I was in my early to mid twenties, and I worked with some really good people, but I was working my way up the corporate ladder and I looked at what my boss was doing one day and I really did not want to do that. I had done a teaching assistantship in grad school while working. I found that I had a knack for explaining biology and I just felt a pull towards it. So I quit the lab business, got my teaching certificate and the rest is history…. I figure there was some fate involved here. My career goal was to teach AP Biology at Yorktown High School, and I was hired as my first job to teach AP Biology at Yorktown,” Zito said.

Growing up in Hudson Valley, New York, Zito became interested in the environmental movement that took root there. Inspired by this, while he was working in the labs, he began taking classes at night and studying hard to get his degree in environmental science. After 17 years of teaching AP Biology, Zito, along with other teachers in the science department, decided to establish AP Environmental Science. Since its establishment 12 years ago, the AP Environmental Science program has been successful in teaching students about the changing environment, the problems associated with the environment and how to prevent these problems. Not only did he pioneer the AP Environmental Science program, but he also worked with senior Elizabeth Woolford to jump start the school’s adoption of a recycling program, which was recently put into place.

“I worked extensively with him outside of the classroom. Last year, I approached him and told him that I wanted to bring a recycling program to the school for my Girl Scout project and he said, ‘Sure! Let’s do it.’ It turned into a crazy year with a lot of planning. He served as a liaison between me and all of the organizations and helped out by communicating with the administration…. He was absolutely an invaluable member of our team and one of my cheerleaders…. I think that recycling is definitely one of the legacies he will leave at this school,” Woolford said.

Zito has created both lasting memories and a resounding impact on those who have had the honor of having him as a teacher. Two of Zito’s former students who grew up to be biology teachers have come back to teach with him. Knowing that these students looked up to him and were inspired by his teaching is one of the most rewarding feelings that he has felt. Zito recalls a gratifying experience he had while he was teaching science for High-Intensity Learning Training (HILT) students. He taught a young woman who was hard-working and persistent, despite having to learn about complex processes in a second language, which can be extremely difficult. She failed the Standards of Learning (SOL) but came back to and worked with Zito, doing everything she could to pass. Zito is empowered by his students everyday, but “to have helped someone who was an American immigrant felt different and big.”

Many of Zito’s students admire the energy that constantly fills his classroom. Senior Jonathan Malks recognizes the engaging, unique teaching style Zito incorporates into class.

“His teaching is no-nonsense and passionate. While he is extremely adept at controlling the attention of his classroom, he also knows how to connect with his students on a personal level and push them toward growth,” Malks said.

Zito’s advice for future teachers is to teach what they are passionate about and always remember that yes, they are teaching a class, but they are also teaching a class of kids, so it is important to enjoy working with young people and learn to be patient with them.

“People say, ‘Don’t you get bored of teaching them mitosis year after year?’ and I say, ‘Yeah, but I haven’t taught it to you.’ If you think about a concert violinist playing Mozart they practice, practice, practice, practice, then perform, perform, perform, perform. It is the same piece. You think they would get tired of it, but people that are in the audience tonight have never heard it,” Zito said.

With one of the most influential and important jobs, Zito is able to provide his students with necessary material while creating a personal learning space. His technique continues to be effective and meaningful.

“Zito has impacted my learning by having the capability to explain some of the most complex phenomena on Earth in a thoughtful, concise manner,Malks said.

Zito encourages his students to do what they love and let that lead them wherever it might. He wants them to know that grades are not everything. In life, it is more important to understand the material than to get a good grade. That letter becomes worthless if it means that nothing was learned.

“The more you know the better. Keep learning. Find your passion and follow that. I have had a number of friends and some students that get set in their minds that this is what I need to do. Well you are young, you do not need to do anything. I always tell my seniors, ‘Do what tickles your brain.’ You have got to do what is intellectually stimulating to you. Do not do something because you think you are going to make a lot of money doing it, because then you will be rich and miserable. Find what you like and do that. Grades are artificial. In the end you do not get graded, you get evaluated on what you know how to do,” Zito said.

After an adulthood of primarily teaching, Zito is expecting a big change. His 29 years of teaching have been both edifying and stimulating, which will make it difficult for him to leave. Zito continues to positively impact his community and will continue to do so long after he leaves.

“[I will miss] being a part of people’s lives. It is going to be really hard for me. Everyday I get to see students and teach them and there is something about that that invigorates me…. [I will miss] the constant interaction with people. Teaching either ages you or keeps you young, and so far it has kept me mentally young. Teaching has taught me patience, which is wearing a little thin, which is one of the reasons why it is time to go. You have to be willing to change with the times. You do not stay somewhere for 29 years if you do not love it. And I have been extremely fortunate to spend my career in one place with the quality people that surround me here, both students and staff. This is a really good place to work. There is no better gig,” Zito said.

Zito’s contagious zeal for science will persist long after his retirement. With a lengthy bucket list, he plans to stay busy while furthering his knowledge. With more available time spent outdoors, Zito fully intends on bettering the environment and himself.

“When my wife retires we are going to do a lot of traveling…. I am going to take some time to do some personal things. Take some guitar lessons, give some guitar lessons. I want to take voice lessons. I have a list. Be an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), George Mason or Marymount… just teach one class to keep my foot in the game. There are a bunch of places up in New York that I would love to volunteer with: Sloop Clearwater, an environmental organization started by a folk singer…. Learn to paint. I do not know, I can do whatever I want. Walk my dogs. Write a book. Take golf lessons,” Zito said.

Zito can remember when he was one of the newer teachers at the school.

“During a faculty meeting I remember seeing an old dude in the far back corner… and one day I was in the back corner,” Zito said.
But we all know that Zito will be remembered for being so much more than just the “old dude in the far back corner.” We will never forget his dedication to teaching science, his enthusiasm for helping his students understand not only biology and environmental science, but also important life lessons and his impressive guitar performances. Zito’s unforgettable yin yang piercing and sweater vests will be missed greatly in the halls. We wish Zito luck in his future endeavors and hope that his retirement is worthwhile.

YHS Community Thoughts

“He impacted the class because he went about teaching in a different manor than most. We would discuss the topic amongst ourselves in small groups and he would teach us afterwards. That the caps win a championship.” -Jonathan Short, freshman

“Mr. Zito impacts everyone in his class with his funny and welcoming personality. He helps everyone in his class learn biology in a very effective way that has helped me come to really enjoy the subject. I would like to say to Mr. Zito that he has really helped me become a better student and person through his classroom environment. I hope he keeps being the funny and quirky teacher that I had the pleasure to have!” -Anna Barnes, freshman

“My favorite thing about Mr. Z is his avuncular nature. Not only is he a wonderful, engaging teacher, but he always has a story to tell an eager ear. He is one of the only teachers I can truly call a friend” – Jonathan Malks, senior

“I love the energy that he brings to the classroom and the depth and breadth of material that we cover in such a short time period. I am always engaged and always looking for ways that I can discuss what we learned in the classroom outside of the classroom. To have a teacher like Mr. Zito teach the material so wonderfully has been very useful,” -Elizabeth Woolford, senior

“Mr Zito has been a great mentor and an priceless resource for my ability to teach AP Environmental Science. He has shown his student, over the years, not only the curriculum but how to think in new and novel ways that will serve them well throughout life. I feel confident that Mr. Zito is not done with educating young people and I wish him all the best with whatever he chooses to do in the future.” -Curt Dorman, AP Environmental Science teacher