Teaching Assistant Returns to Briarcliff to Learn the Ropes from His Mentor

Joseph Canonaco and Christopher Quinn (Photo: Briarcliff Middle School)

Briarcliff alum and Middle School Social Studies Teaching Assistant Joseph Canonaco remembers his seventh grade social studies classes in vivid detail. The reason, Mr. Canonaco will tell you, is that he had the right teacher: Christopher Quinn. Now, Mr. Canonaco is back to teach alongside, and learn from, his mentor.

When Mr. Canonaco graduated from Oneonta this summer and started looking for work as a teacher, he saw a job opening at Briarcliff Middle School and applied.

“A big part of my decision to become a teacher has to do with my dad – he wanted me to become a teacher. But Mr. Quinn is another big reason,” he said. “I interned with him when I was a senior at Briarcliff High School and it was a good experience. I also came to observe his classroom when I was in college.”

Mr. Canonaco was thrilled to be paired with Mr. Quinn.

“It all came full circle,” he said. “I love the way he runs his classroom as a social studies teacher. He is the kind of social studies teacher I want to be,” he added.

Mr. Canonaco loves Mr. Quinn’s creativity. Whether he is adding humor to quiz games, riding his unicycle down the school hallway, juggling or infusing history into current events, Mr. Quinn finds ways to catch student attention, Mr. Canonaco said.

“He always tried to infuse history into current events so for someone like me who has always loved history, to be able to connect past events to current events was great! He is also just a really nice guy – you want to come to his class every day,” he said.

Joseph Canonaco in the classroom ((Photo: Briarcliff Middle School)

This year, with the new system of having a cohort for each class, the teachers usually do the lessons with one cohort in one room, while the other cohort watches the teacher on the screen in another room, with a teaching assistant. Mr. Canonaco, however, does the lessons himself.

“Joe actually remembers some lessons from seventh grade, it’s amazing!” Mr. Quinn said. “He’s totally capable.”

Mr. Canonaco feels comfortable with the material and admits there is a big trust factor involved. Each morning before class, Mr. Canonaco goes over the day’s lesson with Mr. Quinn to ensure that he understands the lesson objectives and how Mr. Canonaco wants the information to be delivered to the students.

“It is about the comfort level we have with each other and also with the students,”

Mr. Quinn said Mr. Canonaco prepares for teaching in the way he once prepared for football games at the Briarcliff Team’s quarterback.

Mr. Canonaco tries to emulate his former teacher by making lessons more engaging. For example, to teach students about the Electoral College, he borrowed a lesson from Mr. Quinn’s book by creating a competition. Students had to create an electoral college map, conduct research and predict the outcome. Adding the element of competition makes it more interesting for seventh graders, he said.

“I want to build interest in American politics for my students,” he said.

As a young Teaching Assistant – Mr. Canonaco is only 22 – he feels comfortable turning to his mentor for guidance.

“Whenever I have a question Mr. Quinn is the first person I go to, the first person I look to for advice. Down the road I’ll have my own style and ways that I teach but he is really the foundation,” he said.

The relationship is reciprocal, as Mr. Quinn often finds himself reaching to Mr. Canonaco for help.

“Joe is getting his masters degree in Educational Technology from Johns Hopkins, which is great because if there are any technology issues in class, Joe’s there and he can troubleshoot them. I feel that I’m the lucky one,” Mr. Quinn said.

Mr. Quinn also feels lucky to have a teaching assistant who is very passionate about the material he is teaching.

“It’s easy to work with him. Joe knows his stuff, he knows the content, and he’s confident enough to teach it, which is important. He never complains or says ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ he just does it,” Mr. Quinn said.

Mr. Canonaco finds that his background in sports, along with having Mr. Quinn as a mentor, helps him with any challenges.

“History comes easy to me, but I also like the challenges that come with teaching it, just like I liked to be challenged in sports. But I’m up for the challenge with Mr. Quinn as my mentor,” he said.

Joe’s ultimate goal is to be a social studies teacher and maybe a technology advisor for a school.

“I’d love to stay in Briarcliff,” he said. “I’m excited about the opportunity and I love coming in to work every day.”

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