Teachers Before Townsend: Mr. Spitaleri’s road from THHS and back


Photo by Judy Kin

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Townsend Harris alumnus Frank Spitaleri has been working at the school for three years as an English and history teacher. Mr. Spitaleri lived in New York for his entire life, specifically spending his childhood in Ozone Park, Queens alongside his pet cat Luna. For college, he attended Pace University in lower Manhattan where he studied English Literature. “Funnily enough, Pace is more known for its business school, but they have a great English department and it’s very small, so I feel like I got a lot more attention there than if I went to a larger humanities based school. I enjoyed it,” Mr. Spitaleri said.

After his undergraduate education, Mr. Spitaleri pursued a graduate degree in education at CUNY Hunter College, ultimately leading him to become a teacher.

During his time as a student at THHS, Mr. Spitaleri was inspired by an English teacher to pursue a career in education. This teacher saw the potential in him to become an educator and shared this with Mr. Spitaleri’s mother during a Parent Teacher Conference. Their words had a lasting impact with Mr. Spitaleri, who said, “that kind of always stuck with me.” 

While at his previous school in the Bronx, MS118, he was initially assigned to teach English classes. However, due to a vacancy in the Social Studies department, he stepped up to teach History “just to be a team player.” As he continued to teach the course, Mr. Spitaleri discovered that he had a greater affinity for Social Studies than for English. Consequently, he made an effort to continue teaching Social Studies, which led to him securing a spot at THHS.

Mr. Spitaleri has worked at THHS for three years teaching AP World History. Alongside History teacher Adam Stonehill, they teach four sophomore APWHclasses. Mr. Stonehill said, “It takes time to develop a real rapport and it’s much greater than just having two teachers in a room.” Mr. Spitaleri also taught the English class “All The World’s a Stage” with English teacher Ryan Dunbar in the past. 

Sophomore Brian Wirjadi, a current student of Mr. Spitaleri said, “Not only does Mr. Spitaleri explain and teach the curriculum well, [but] he’s super friendly, approachable, and makes funny jokes. He leads me to think outside of the box, often using creative teaching strategies that make me feel like a historian living through time.”

Engaging in extracurriculars at THHS, Mr. Spitaleri serves as an advisor to the Culinary Connections club in collaboration with Ms. Gelbman. The club provides students with the opportunity to not only learn about food safety but also create a range of delights. 

Reflecting on his past experiences, he said, “I would tell myself that there’s a big difference between what’s important and what’s urgent. It took me some time to learn that because there’s a high stress environment when it comes to teaching, not only for the teacher but the students as well. I would tell myself to reevaluate and not think that everything is as big of a deal as it is.” 

Mr. Spitaleri also resonates with a quote his mother would often advise him with. In Italian he said, “Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano.” This translates to “The person who goes slow will go far.” He states that rather than rushing and making a mistake, taking your time is the best way to go, which he intends on following. 

Keeping his future in mind, he is currently working on a post-graduate degree in school building leadership. He said, “Once I finish the program this July, I will be eligible to apply for jobs as an assistant principal. I am going to remain teaching for at least one more year while I iron out the details, but my goal is to transition into school administration within the next three years. I am not sure if that means my journey would take me to another school, but for the time being I would like to stay at THHS.”