Emily Carbonetti: Four-decade career in the classroom started at UMaine

As a third generation Black Bear, Emily Carbonetti’s connections to the University of Maine run deep. Her mom’s family was from Augusta, and her grandfather and both of her parents graduated from UMaine.

“My mother had no choice. She was going to the University of Maine — that was it,” says Carbonetti, half joking.

Her mom’s sister also went to UMaine, and ended up marrying John Fogler, Raymond H. Fogler’s son. Yes, that Raymond H. Fogler.

“We often would go up for Homecoming, we’d get together with cousins, grandparents. We just would have a ball,” she recalls.

One of Carbonetti’s two sons is also a graduate, making four generations of her family to earn degrees from UMaine.

Carbonetti, who earned her bachelor’s in education in 1976, transferred to UMaine from Green Mountain College, a small private school in Poultney, Vermont where she earned an associate’s degree in education. She applied to a number of different 4-year colleges, but says Maine “was like going home.”

UMaine is also where she met her husband of 43 years, Richard “Carbo” Carbonetti, who earned his degree in forestry.

“It’s always been a big part of our lives,” she says.

After graduating, Emily and Richard moved to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, where he pursued a career as a forester and she began her career as a teacher at a small community school in Glover, about 20 minutes from where they settled in Albany, Vermont.

She taught in a combined fourth and fifth grade classroom, and says UMaine prepared her for what to expect as a small-town educator.

“I did my student teaching in Hampden in a fourth grade classroom,” she says. “And then when my husband was finishing his degree, I took a long-term substitute job in Glenburn, in a combined fourth and fifth grade class, in a school very similar to the one that I started at in Glover.”

She also had jobs at a day care in Bangor and as a tutor at Asa Adams School in Orono. Those experiences, she says, proved invaluable when she accepted her first full-time teaching job.

“It’s very hard to tell teachers what it’s going to be like without getting them into classrooms,” she says. “I was fortunate. My student teaching and the jobs I held in Maine were fabulous.”

Carbonetti is retired now, having spent a total of 39 years teaching in Glover. She saw a lot of changes in education over the years as technology advanced and trends came and went. Her advice to new and aspiring teachers is simple: Get to know your students and have them get to know you.

“Develop mutual respect,” she says. “Don’t try to be their buddy or friend — that’s not your job. But do your best to lead them, show them that you have confidence in what you’re doing, and that you’re human.”

Describe the school and community where you taught.
We live in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It’s in the northeast corner of the state. When we first moved here in 1977, there were a lot of farms. There aren’t as many today, because a lot of the smaller, family farms are disappearing. But it’s still very rural.

Glover, where I taught, is probably between 800 and 900 people even now. It’s a small school, K–8, and we all taught combined classrooms. So I taught fourth and fifth grade, and it would change every year depending on the enrollment numbers. We also had a principal who taught middle school math and science.

What did you enjoy about teaching at a rural school?
I loved it. Especially in the early years, I thought we had a lot of freedom to meet the standards the way we felt they needed to be met. We also had a lot of family support and the principal was wonderful in that he was a teacher too, so he was supportive.

What were some of the changes you saw in education over the years?
In the beginning, we taught the basic competencies — different skills that we wanted the students to master in the different subject areas. As I said, we had a lot of freedom to teach as we saw fit, as long as the children were mastering these competencies. Over the years, that changed as everything became more standards-based, and we had to teach to these standards. Everything was driven more top-down, and we were told, “This is how you’re going to do it.” And the programs that they implemented would change every few years, and you had to be trained how to use them, and some of them were not user friendly.

I also got to experience some positive changes. We got our first computer at Glover in 1983, and every year we built up our technology. The computers became easier to use, and eventually we taught the kids how to use them. By the time I left, every kid and every teacher had a laptop. The internet, of course, created a whole new ballgame. The technology resources were just enormous, and I was one of those teachers who liked to use whatever resources were available.

Do you have any advice for new teachers just starting their careers?
This is such a difficult question. There’s so much they need to know. First, remain calm and don’t get overwhelmed by all the research thrown at you in college. Don’t expect one program to be the answer. I find a lot of new teachers want it all in a loose-leaf notebook that they can just present to the class and everything’s great. But you have to take the time to get to know the students as people and let them get to know you. Explain your reasoning as to what you are trying to do and why.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to let them know that you don’t know everything, but you have the confidence to figure it out. Kids can smell vulnerability a million miles away and will play on it. They need to know who is in charge. They want to feel safe in the classroom with you as their leader. Classroom management is extremely important. A teacher’s job is to guide students in the learning process through caring and mutual respect. I have often told my students that I care about them, I want them to succeed, but I’m not your friend. In my 39 years, I rarely raised my voice. I practiced discipline through explanation. I had two rules: do not stop me from teaching, and do not stop others from learning. We would have discussions as to what that means and they understood.

My final piece of advice is: don’t think you know it all, because you don’t. Ask questions and learn from your colleagues. I’ve seen many teachers fail because they were afraid to ask others for help. We’ve all been there and know what it’s like to be a new teacher. You are not showing weakness if you need help.

What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals?
I met my husband there, and Maine has always been an integral part of our family. As far as the education, I learned so much during my student teaching in Hampden. I was in a fourth grade classroom with Mr. Jenkins, and they used to give him the hardest students. That really helped me tremendously, watching him interact with them. He used a lot of the techniques that I would use — the mutual respect, explaining why you’re asking students to do something.

How does UMaine continue to influence your life?
Fill the Steins! I’m a Maine girl at heart, and UMaine is just very dear to our whole family.

Contact: Casey Kelly, casey.kelly@maine.edu