DADE CITY — The telephone call to biology teacher Christina Page’s classroom at Pasco High came during a routine day when her focus was on students, not the unexpected.
“Congratulations,” the caller said. The Florida Association of Science Teachers had just named Page the state’s Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year.
Distracted by her students and not quite processing the message, Page responded a bit abruptly.
“Silly me. I said, ‘I’ll have to get back to you,’ and I hung up on her,” Page said.
No hard feelings, apparently, because Page is still scheduled to receive the award Saturday during the third and final day of the association’s annual conference, held this year in Miami.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Page, who professes to being uncomfortable in the limelight. “I just want to be in my classroom, close the door and do what I do.”
This is her 30th year doing what she does and all but two of those years have been at Pasco High, where each day her students witness some of the traits that no doubt contributed to the state recognition.
“She’s nice and she’s very helpful,” said Jacob Macy, 14, a freshman.
“She gives us labs so we are very hands-on,” said Courtney Graham, also a 14-year-old freshman. “If she’s moving too fast for us, she slows down and explains it for us.”
And there’s this:
“She told us we get to dissect a baby pig, so we are pretty excited about that,” Courtney said.
Three decades ago, Page was an unlikely candidate to some day be honored as a statewide Teacher of the Year in science.
She grew up in New York and earned her teaching certification in elementary special education, but when she graduated from the College of Staten Island the job market was tight.
“There were no teaching jobs up north,” Page said.
With limited prospects in New York, she moved to New Port Richey to be with her mother after her stepfather died. She discovered that the Florida job market in the early 1980s was tough as well, so for two years she worked as a substitute teacher while hoping to land a fulltime position.
Along the way, she became discouraged and nearly gave up her teaching dream, but her mother encouraged her to stick with it.
Finally, an opportunity emerged on the opposite side of the county teaching seventh-graders at Moore-Mickens Junior High, now Moore-Mickens Education Center. It wasn’t the grade level Page trained for in college, but she gave it a try.
Two years later, some of her former Moore-Mickens students were at Pasco High where they caught wind of an opening for a science teacher. They told Page it would be perfect for her and she made the move to the high school.
She realized, though, that she would need more education and proper science certification if her career was going to head in this direction, so she took classes at the University of South Florida.
Science worked for her and over the years she also has taught integrated science and environmental science, along with biology.
For her biology students, the highlight of the year is in the final quarter when they perform a necropsy on a pig. They are expected to identify and remove all the parts of the pig, then put them back.
“After three days of the same pig in my room, it’s smelling pretty good,” Page said.
Girls typically are more squeamish when the work begins, but they often do the better job in the end, she said.
She loves being in the classroom the best, but Page also takes on leadership roles. She has been a presenter three times at the Florida Association of Science Teachers’ annual conference. Two years ago, she and fellow Pasco High teacher Jeneane Maddaloni demonstrated lesson plans related to improving reading skills through science.
She also sponsors a student club called Teens Against Discrimination.
Page was a finalist for the Pasco County school district’s Teacher of the Year in 2012. Even after so many years in education, Page said she still gets excited about working with students and seeing the sparks go off when it’s clear they grasped a concept.
“We do make a difference in their lives,” Page said.