St. James celebrates beloved teacher

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Photo: From left: Vincent Piazza, Michael Piazza, Tammy Piazza and Austin Piazza pose at the retirement party for Tammy on Tuesday, May 30, at St. James Catholic School in Gadsden. Teri Chupp/The Messenger

 

By Kate Hoskins, News Editor

Tammy Piazza always had a love of children. She was better known to them as Mrs. Piazza, one of their teachers at St. James Catholic School in Gadsden.

After 25 years, Piazza is hanging up her teaching hat — mostly.

“I’m still plan on substituting,” Piazza said. “That way I still get that great feeling.”

Piazza began her career in teaching a little later than most. She went for teacher certification when she was nearly 40.

“It took me until a little later in life to find my calling,” Piazza said. “I went to college, but I didn’t have a certificate for teaching. I went back to school with two young boys at home. I took a class at a time to earn my certification. Just slowly but surely. To do that at an older age is kind of difficult.”

After earning the certification, St. James was the obvious choice for Piazza.

“Sister Cecilia was here at St. James and she needed a K-4 teacher in the middle of the school year,” Piazza said. “She asked me if I would come, and I did, and I have been teaching ever since.”

Piazza started in K-4, but she also taught kindergarten and third grade.

“I loved the older students because they’re more able to know what you’re teaching, and you can see the lightbulb actually go off. I loved the four- and five-year-olds, too.”

When asked what she would miss most after her retirement, Piazza said “the student.”

“I wanted to make an impact on the students I taught. I’m going to miss them all very much.”

To celebrate her 25 years of teaching, students and faculty members gathered Tuesday, May 30, at the school, to honor Piazza and share stories.

“I would much rather give than receive. I was trying to get away with not having a party. I was saying ‘No, no party for me’,” Piazza joked. “It was so wonderful. Last night was awesome though because several students showed up and they have done very well in life.”

Piazza recalled one such student, Savannah Miles, who she taught a total of three times. She was Piazza’s student in Mother’s Day Out — an educational program that gives young children the chance to interact with kids their own age. She was her student again as a two-year-old and then, later, she was her student when she was four.

“She’ll say all of us at St. James made an impact in her life because she went on to Gadsden City and won a scholarship to Harvard,” Piazza said.

After graduating from Harvard, Miles moved back to Gadsden. She was hired in 2020 as the chief executive director for the Boys and Girls Club of Gadsden/Etowah.

And according to Piazza, Miles started competing in the television show MasterChef last week.

Miles is just one of the many former students who attended a retirement party for Piazza Tuesday evening.

Sierra Lipscomb, who was Piazza’s student for the 2002-2003 school year, was there.

“She was so loving and caring,” Lipscomb said. “Even after I graduated from her class, she always asked about me and my family. When I was in second grade my pawpaw passed away, when Mrs. Piazza found out he passed she gave me the only picture I currently have of him and myself eating together. I still have that picture. It still means so much to me.”

Piazza said she always carried a camera around and took photos of her classroom and students. Those photos were on display in a slideshow Tuesday night.

“I probably had thousands and thousands,” Piazza said. “I worked on it for four or five days, pulling out pictures for the slideshow. I probably had four hundred pictures on the slideshow. I had a lot more, but I had to try to pick and choose.”

Piazza said a lot of her former students stood in front of the slideshow, looking for their pictures.

“It was fun to see them looking at it,” she said. “I taught them when they were four or five and now they’re adults. It makes you go back in time.”
Piazza knows she will keep in touch with her former students, those who are adults now and those she just had in class.

“I will always keep a look out for them. I tell them that I am always watching them and for them to make good decisions.”

One of her recent students, Anderson “Andi” Chupp, is on Piazza’s radar.

“I’m keeping my eye on her,” Piazza said. “She’s going to do great things, I just know it. She’s a little sweetheart. It was wonderful to end my year with her. Andi is a standout, that’s for sure. It was wonderful having her for my final year.”

Chupp, who just finished third grade, said Piazza’s class was her favorite.

“She is so kind and sweet. She loves all her students,” Chupp said. “So far, her class has been my favorite because we got to do science experiments. We all got to pick out what we wanted to do, and we got to show the class our experiments and it was fun.”

Chupp was not the only recent student that Piazza was proud of.

“I had a student this last year that came in from public school and he was reading on a pre-K five level, the same level as four-year-olds. He’s on grade level now. You don’t hardly hear of this. Usually, you gain about 10 or 15 points between testing [at the first of the year and the end of the year.] But he gained 60 points. I’m really proud of him.”

According to Piazza, the success stories make all the long hours and low pay worth it.

“The fulfillment you get is just overwhelming. Nothing, no amount of money, or anything, can replace what you feel when you feel like you’ve helped someone. It is such an awesome feeling. I feel like I have always loved my job. You spend half your life in your job. To be able to fill 25 years with what you love doing has been a privilege to me. God has been good to me. It has been very fulfilling, I can say that for sure.”

Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford, whose son Jonathon has been lifelong friends with Piazza’s son Austin, said she is the teacher ever parent dreams of.

“Mrs. Piazza is the type of teacher every parent dreams of for their child,” Ford said. “She is not only a wonderful educator, she teaches children so much more. I am proud to call her my friend and I know she will continue to touch more lives as she moves to a new chapter in her life.”

St. James Catholic School Principal John Parker said Piazza will be missed by everyone involved in the school.

“Tammy Piazza’s 25 years at St. James has touched the lives of not only the students she taught but their families as well,” Parker said. “I have had the privilege of watching her teach, and the excitement and curiosity she brings to a classroom always awakens her students’ need to learn. She will be truly missed by students, their families and the faculty of St. James School. We are losing a person who lives the Christian ideal to love all and shows it everyday. We wish her and her family all the best in her retirement, and know we will always consider her part of our family.”

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