Before They Were Teachers: Morris Hills Edition


It seems to be part of human nature to picture stability in our future careers. When asked by relatives and peers about a future job, we tend to respond with a single answer: an engineer, a doctor, or a plumber, perhaps. The answer is never the actual complicated maze of careers that people often experience. 

As teachers are people too, many of them have had that maze of careers and jobs. Studies done by LinkedIn show that today younger people, such as Gen Z, are around three times more likely to change jobs than Baby Boomers.

Students might perceive that their teachers have been in education for their whole lives. However, there are a lot of current teachers at Morris Hills who have had previous careers that have influenced their teaching styles and their appreciation for  their jobs in education. Some of our Morris Hills teachers shared their experiences about what led them to join a career with a Labor Department-predicted outlook of eight percent growth over the next decade.

Ms. Paulson, a world language teacher, always wanted to be a teacher, but she was told that it would be difficult to find jobs if she focused on education in college. As an alternative path that also is focused on helping others, she majored in nursing, becoming a Registered Nurse as well. In her nursing career, she worked in the ICU and medical surgeries departments, as well as specialized in pediatrics and emergency medicine.

However, during this long career, Ms. Paulson realized that “the things [she] liked best were working with young people and teaching.” Having a secure profession encouraged her to return to school, get a degree in education, and explore her interests. She initially focused on science and math, as those subjects aligned with her nursing experiences, but taking a Spanish course reminded her of a passion for studying Spanish while in high school and using that Spanish to communicate in her nursing career.

Ms. Paulson graduated from William Paterson University in 2007 with a degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, as well as a teaching certificate. She started teaching Spanish at Morris Hills soon afterwards, and has been doing so since. Although she is not currently in the nursing career, she still helps out at the COVID-19 Megasite in Rockaway.

Mr. DiGennaro, a business teacher, is a graduate of Morris Hills who has come back to teach Personal Finance and Intro to Business. He originally went to Montclair State University believing that he would become a chemistry teacher, but he ended up not liking chemistry. So, he switched tracks to graduate with a business degree, and started looking for jobs in the business world.

Pepsi hired Mr. DiGennaro, who, over time, worked his way up the positional ladder of the company. He was originally hired to be a sales representative, and he “would go to QuickCheks, Wawas, and other small convenient stores [to] put all the orders [for Pepsi products] in on [his] iPad.” He had that position for about six months, going from store to store until he was promoted to a manager. 

There was a significant amount of responsibility that came with that job, as he was responsible for the maintenance and refilling of all of New Jersey’s Pepsi machines. Not only did he have to be at the office at 5:00 a.m., but his commute was 45 minutes to an hour each way to get to his offices in Piscataway and Kearny, New Jersey.

At this time in Mr. DiGennaro’s life, he coached track and field at Montclair while also going through graduate school. The best part of coaching in Mr. DiGennaro’s view was his interactions with students, so the head coach of that track and field team suggested he become a teacher.

Through a system called the Alternate Route Program and the Saturday classes that go along with it, he was able to do all of his paperwork to become a teacher. He ended up teaching at Boonton High School for four years but just came to Morris Hills before the start of this school year. Mr. DiGennaro constantly applies his experiences as a manager to his classes, and how he “made tough decisions” while at Pepsi. He knows his students do like him bringing his personal experiences into the classroom, as they can finally see the connection between what they are learning and what they will need to do.

Ms. Sabatini, a business teacher, always thought she would be applying a business major to something, but not to teaching. Instead, she had visions of running a restaurant with her friend, with her friend being the cook and herself being the manager. She spent 15 years in the restaurant business, making enough money to get herself through college. Mrs. Sabatini started her academic career at Bergen Community College and then received her BA from Fairleigh Dickinson University.  

Ms. Sabatini loved the social interactions in the restaurant business, and she cherished seeing repeat customers. She says those are the same aspects of teaching that she enjoys—working with “the repeat customers” who are in her classes.  However, the hours required for being in the restaurant business were straining. She did not like having to work “every holiday, every weekend [and] late at night,” which led her to do a bit of soul-searching. Since she majored in business, not in a field restaurant-specific, and she went to a vocational high school that was focused on computers, she was able to find a job for a computer accessory company in a corporate office. 

Now, she liked the hours, with the two weeks paid vacation in a nine-to-five job, but some of the passion was missing. Ms. Sabatini did not like the “corporate structure,”  and being in the confined office every day, so she went into teaching. Her first teaching job was at Westwood High School, and she had her children before coming to her job at Morris Hills. 

Despite the 30 mile drive, Ms. Sabatini truly enjoys her experience at Morris Hills. Here, she teaches Game Development,  Personal Finance (which she also called Adulting-101!), Yearbook, Virtual Enterprise and Social Media Marketing. 

Due to her degree, she can teach most business classes she needs to at Morris Hills. This flexibility is important to Ms. Sabatini, and it has followed her through her entire life. It has allowed her to move careers when she believes it is time, and she encourages students to get a degree in business to allow such flexibility in their own lives. “Everything’s a business,” as she puts it, in a motto quite helpful to today’s students.