Meridian High School Student Newspaper - The Lasso

The Lasso

Meridian High School Student Newspaper - The Lasso

The Lasso

Meridian High School Student Newspaper - The Lasso

The Lasso

A look into Dr. DeFazio’s career in paradise

Dr.DeFazio+receives+the+2024+Online+Teaching+Excellence+Award+by+George+Mason+University+for+his+excellent+commitment+to+teaching+online+classes.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Dr.+DeFazio%29
Dr.DeFazio receives the 2024 Online Teaching Excellence Award by George Mason University for his excellent commitment to teaching online classes. (Photo courtesy of Dr. DeFazio)

Dr. Al DeFazio is a very busy man. For years, the longtime English teacher has enjoyed a second career as a literature professor at George Mason University (GMU). He was recently honored with an award from the university for his dedication and commitment to students.

DeFazio started teaching at George Mason High School in the fall of 1999. Since then he has taught almost every level of English, currently teaching 10th-grade Lang and Lit and IB TOK. Along with teaching, he is an expert on Hemingway with many published biographies of his life.

When Dr. DeFazio is not teaching at Meridian, he spends his time leading online English classes at GMU. This past April, GMU presented him with an Online Teaching Excellence Award for his dedication and commitment to his students.

While Dr.DeFazio was born to be an educator, he initially dreamed of pursuing a career in creative writing. In fact, he even pursued a PhD in writing.

“I had great teachers in college. And I wanted to do what they were doing. So that’s when I decided to stay and do graduate work and take an academic degree,” he said.

It was the 2007 financial crisis that moved him in the direction of online instruction.

“I thought, how do I make myself more valuable for the next generation? They are going to go online because that’s cheaper, so that’s when I started taking it seriously.”

Online classes have become especially in demand after the COVID-19 pandemic, with many students finding it hard to transition back to in-person courses. For many, it’s the comfort and flexibility that makes classes at home appealing. However, through Dr. DeFazio’s eyes, they are still the second-best option.

“It’s a great environment for people who can’t get to campus, people who can’t afford to get to campus, people with kids, or people who have to work full-time while they’re earning their degree. So it’s a great option for many people, but it’s not the best option. Overall, I still think a face-to-face classroom is the best.”

Teaching in-person classes is a full-time job in and of itself, but Dr. DeFazio finds ways to stay organized and utilize his free time to plan and prepare for online classes.

“I do a ton of work over the summer…I come into the school year with all my administrative stuff taken care of so that I can spend all my time grading, interacting, and lecturing.”

While many may argue that online learning disconnects students from teachers, Dr. DeFazio ensures he is connected with his students even without sitting in a classroom.

“Even in the online course, I like conferencing with students and dealing with them because as an instructor, that’s what you deal with. If I were a computer programmer, I would turn on my screen and I would deal with code, but I’m a teacher. So I feel like I’m teaching when I’m interacting with my students.”

Although communication is different from face-to-face learning, he takes a modern approach to teaching, embracing technology such as video calling.

“It can be a zillion emails that I deal with. Also, phone calls like some students are not comfortable not hearing your voice. You can zoom with them or you can work within Blackboard at the university with them.”

DeFazio initially started his teaching career in 1983 as a graduate student at UVA. He taught for two years at Virginia Tech and then finished his coursework at UVA. Following this, he began his teaching career at GMU.

“While I was finishing my dissertation, I saw an advertisement for GMU. I started teaching there as an adjunct…. I think I took one year off since 1988. So it’s been a long haul there.”

“I like teaching at GMU and that’s what I’ll probably do when I leave here. It’s a lot of fun there, you know, having students who are just a little bit older, but they’re also busier too.”

He enjoys the balance between jobs and the different experiences he has had in each.

“When one job isn’t really satisfying you, then you can shift your focus to the other job and let this problem solve itself or let the problem at the university solve itself.”

He notes that the two types of jobs, while similar, are incomparable. Each is distinct and unique in its own way.

“It was nice to see students from sixth grade to seniors in college. You get to really look at their development as writers. Sometimes I would get students at GMU that I had here, which was kind of cool.”

While Dr. DeFazio has taught many students over the years including Mr. Fay, Mr. Singer, Ms. Saki, and Mr. Stewart, one of his favorite parts of teaching, has been introducing students and teachers to literature.

“It’s gratifying when the light goes on for a student, and they enjoy it. Most students endure their literature classes and their composition classes, but every once in a while you see somebody who genuinely enjoys it. I also heard from a teacher, who said they came in to observe classes…seeing how we engage with literature, she’d become more of a reader as an adult. I thought that was gratifying too.”

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About the Contributor
Alba Selle
Alba Selle, Staff Writer
Alba is a sophomore and this is her first year writing for The Lasso. When not writing, she enjoys playing basketball, reading and running.

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