Roberta Martinelli: Professoressa

story and photos by Vicki Hertz

They call me profRoberta Martinelli’s title of Professoressa commands respect in Cagli, Italy. She says that her students call her "Senora Martinelli." Then with a smile, she quickly clarifies, "Actually, they call me 'Prof.'"

Roberta's greatest joy in teaching is being with her students, and her unofficial title suggests her students enjoy learning in her classroom. Her voice nearly sings as she talks about them and their learning.

"Try as they will, they can't surprise me," she says, adding that after 23 years of teaching, she has seen and heard it all. As she speaks of her students and her life as a teacher, her voice takes on a lyrical tone. She conveys a wise perspective interspersed with melodies of forgiveness. Even Roberta’s slyest charges have no new tricks up their sleeves. A glint in her eyes shows she is perceptive, watchful for the pranks her students may consider. No doubt, the professoressa adeptly realigns her students' postures and minds for the learning at hand.

Roberta sites a particular literacy challenge posed by modern technology. She says it is increasingly difficult to motivate students to read in the face of computerized distractions. By the time they enter her classroom at the age of 11, many have read and outgrown the Harry Potter series. For some of her students, immersion in computer technology derails their desires to read.Classroom with empty desk and cross on wall

Roberta teaches literature, Latin languages, and history -- a combination that places her at the helm of the humanities. She says her students enjoy researching topics on the Internet where they can find information about her favorite subject -- the life, times, and contributions of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She respects and admires the Nobel Peace Prize winner whose message of equity and justice crosses all seas and transcends all borders. She teaches her students his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.  

As a literacy teacher and an avid reader, Roberta expressed her interest in the writings of another American, Ernest Hemingway. She also enjoys fiction by a variety of Italian authors, especially Corrado Augias. 

While growing up, Roberta aspired to be an archeologist.  But teaching was a more accessible and practical path.  As a history and literature teacher, she maintains one foot in the archeologist's boot, keeping her eye on the historical evidence that unveils humanity's roots.

Through television and films, Roberta is aware of two different portraits of American education.  On the one hand she witnesses classrooms rich in resources populated by eager, cooperative learners.  She also views images of dilapidated classrooms that house a cacophony of surly, unkempt, rebellious adolescents.  "Which is real, which is true?" she wonders, hoping the tragic images are hype and myth. The possibility that both are true makes her shoulders fall under the weight of the disparity.

As a dedicated teacher, Roberta is attuned to the well-being of her students and the quality of their learning.  The school year recently ended, and the time has come for the professoressa to take a well-earned vacation.