Sussex Tech Teacher of the Year gets students to perform

On a recent weekday afternoon, Anthony Natoli’s English class was outside of the classroom. Instead, students were sitting in a circle in Sussex Technical High School’s commons area, roleplaying the Salem witch trials of the 1690s and simulating, through a game, how a small New England town dealt with rampant hysteria and fear.

It’s part of Natoli’s study of Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” and reflects his hands-on approach to education — a special focus at Sussex County’s independent career and technical high school.

“I love teaching, because it doesn’t feel like work. It’s just right. It’s rewarding,” said Natoli, 28, who has been named Sussex Tech’s 2019 Teacher of the Year. “The fulfillment is obvious, the feedback is quick, and the results are continuous.”

On Oct. 16, Natoli will learn if he will be selected as the next state Teacher of the Year at an awards banquet in Dover. Regardless of that honor, though, the Lewes resident said it is an honor to represent Sussex Tech’s teachers.

“My best days in the classroom are when I’m actively engaged with my class, and they are engaged with me,” he said.

His platform as Teacher of the Year focuses on expanding project-based learning, an approach central to Sussex Tech’s career and technical education curriculum — all about learning and then using skills on a practical level.

“Students need not only to acquire skills, but to practice them,” Natoli said. “Students need to graduate from high school with more than a piece of paper. They need practical and applicable skills to launch them into the next phase of life.”

Natoli puts that philosophy into action in his role as director of Sussex Tech’s theater program, which involves about 100 students putting on four productions each year. Students act, sing and dance, but they also do makeup, costuming and directing; students from Sussex Tech’s carpentry program help with set design; graphic design students create posters and playbills; and media broadcasting students film the productions.

Natoli said the productions are special because they are student-driven. He guides the cast and crew through months of rehearsals, but then steps back and lets them lead.

“When the show opens, I sit in the booth,” he explained. “If they need me, I’m there, but they run the show.”

Natoli is also active in the Tech athletic community, serving as head junior varsity baseball coach. He sees extracurriculars and athletics as complementing the school’s mission to produce career- and college-ready graduates.

“Baseball always centers me,” Natoli said. “I love the art of baseball, the thought process. It’s another vehicle to create successful young people — teaching the lessons of perseverance and leadership.”

Natoli’s journey to teaching was not a direct route. Born in New Jersey, he cut his teeth on stage as a vocalist with the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale, including singing in Italy and France and at Carnegie Hall. He attended the University of Delaware and originally planned to go into medicine or law, but found his way into the classroom.

This fall, he enters his seventh year at Sussex Tech, where he teaches 11th-grade English. His fiancé is Ianna Mosberg, an English teacher at Cape Henlopen High School.

“Anthony represents the best of what our teachers offer — he’s a dynamic, energetic and involved educator who cares deeply about student success,” said Sussex Technical School District Superintendent Stephen Guthrie. “He transforms traditional academic subjects into hands-on experiences, helping shape our students for college or careers in the best tradition of Sussex Tech teachers.”