Teacher Spotlight: Matthew Panzano

by Meleena Mohammed

This is the Teacher Spotlight and we are shining it on one of Freedom’s AP Human Geography teachers– Mr. Panzano! He is one of my favorite teachers and having had him as a teacher, I can personally vouch for how amazing he is. He is loved by his students, respected by his peers, and beloved in the Monticello Community. He cares deeply about his students and loves his job.


Photo taken by Meleena Mohammed, Freedom of the Press editor

Mr. Panzano teaching with his usual enthusiasm.

FOP: What made you choose this field as your career path?

Panzano: When I was a sophomore in highschool, I had a really influential teacher, that… I had never anyone like him before. And, I saw how much people hung on his every word, and how much he really helped people, both in and outside of the classroom. Then, I started paying attention to more of my teachers who did that, and I saw that this was more than a profession in a classroom. It’s helping the community. So, I really wanted to make a big difference in my community, wherever that was…and here I am.

FOP: Did you always know this is what you wanted to do?

Panzano: Since I was a sophomore in highschool, yes.

FOP: And before that?

Panzano: Before that I wanted to do random things. Like, run a casino because I saw the movie Ocean’s Eleven and thought it was cool; and I wanted to be a pyrotechnician because because I thought lighting fireworks was cool. But, I didn’t really have a career in mind.

FOP: What college did you attend?

Panzano: University of Florida.

FOP:  Why?

Panzano: Honestly I thought I was gonna go to USF, for a long time because I lived in Tampa. And finally, when I took a tour of UF, I just fell in love, like I belonged there, like I could see myself walking from class to class. I knew it was far away from home, so I would be independent, and I felt like I could be apart of that campus. Not that the other campuses weren’t nice, but I never really had that gut-feeling like I did there. It was hard to explain.

FOP: How has teaching AP Human Geography affected you and your perspectives on life?

Panzano: I mean, it’s changed everything. It’s affected how… I have to behave when I’m in different cultures; it’s made me so much more aware of the world around me. So, even my awareness as I’m walking through the aisles of the food store, I can tell where certain foods came from and different cultures and like why they have those things. So, it’s changed everything I do because now I’m aware of everything around me, and I understand how and why things happen. Because of that, I can make predictions about the future and I feel more confident doing that, now that I know this class. It’s awesome, I love this class.

FOP: What do you enjoy most about your job?

Panzano: I love teaching the subject, but I also like mentoring people. No matter what subject you teach, I feel like you can mentor a student, you can mentor a faculty member. And, I also like learning from more experienced teachers and even from students sometimes. Like, I’ll be talking about cultures around the world and they’ll be from that culture and can tell me something new that I never knew. So, it’s this constant sharing what I know, and gaining what other people know; it’s never me just being a mentor to someone, they’re also in a way mentoring me. That’s what I love about the job and also working with Monticello, it’s just building relationships. Whether you’re doing it in the class, or in Monticello, or just being that person who can help someone out.

FOP: Do you have any hobbies outside of school?

Panzano: Yeah, actually I do… I love travelling, I consider that a hobby. I love trying new foods I’ve never had before; it’s not really a hobby so much, but it’s gaining new experiences. In terms, of like, things I do… I’m a nerd. I play video games and I have no shame in saying that. I used to be a drummer; I haven’t done that in a long time, but I was a percussionist for 13 years. Also, learning how to cook new foods, I need to learn how to cook more stuff…  but I guess in terms of hobbies, mostly video games, so I can relate to people. And also, I’ve really gotten into reading again; in college I didn’t get a lot of time to read, because there was a lot of other stuff going on, you know. So I rediscovered reading and going to the beach, and meditation too.

FOP: What were you like in high school?

Panzano: Band nerd, obviously. I was, for the most part… a good student. I’m not gonna lie and say that I was a perfect student, I could have applied myself more. But, in terms of who I was, I was always looking for leadership opportunities. I was president of NHS, I was drum captain; but I was also cocky. I mean, it is what it is, arrogance. My freshmen would say that I am now too, but that’s just how they see me because of the level of subject we’re at and they sort of go, ‘oh okay, he’s just having conversation’ and I have to meet them at that level. So yeah, cocky band nerd, with a giant head of hair; and just… you know, awkward, quirky, just like everyone.

FOP: Were you lazy?

Panzano: Ha, depends on your definition of the word. Did I procrastinate? Yes. Do I recommend it? Absolutely not. But, I was never lazy in that; I felt bothered if I didn’t do homework. So, I always tried to make an effort to do the best I could; even if I didn’t finish it, in my mind I knew that I accomplished some of it, so I felt better about it. But, I also didn’t blame others, if I didn’t do it. Because, I would do my math homework by the streetlight, waiting for my parents to pick me up from band practice. Because I knew if I loved band, I have to do this homework at night, like that’s just how it was. I didn’t think “Why did my teacher give me so much homework?” It was just “Oh, I guess I gotta do this.”

FOP: Do you have any tips for us students?

Panzano: Um, take a step back sometimes and look at the bigger picture. You know, sometimes the things that you guys stress about, that we all stress about are not that big of a deal in the long wrong. So, sometimes that gives you perspective if you just take a step back and go “Okay, how much is this really affecting my life right now?” And that could be like, a relationship with someone, and even just, if you didn’t do two problems on your math homework or something like that, something that would bother people. But if you’re giving a hundred and ten percent, whatever that defines for you… then you should feel successful. And, if you know you can do better, I would say, honestly, that’s why you should respect your teachers, because they’ve been through it and they know what to do. I think it’s a communication problem. Some people think of me as like a totalitarian dictator, and others see me for what I’m really trying to do. But, I can’t ever have both at the same time. So… I would just say take a step back sometimes, look at the bigger picture and go “Is this just a speedbump in the road of life?” Because, I think people would feel a little bit better about some of those things when you do.

FOP: Okay, random question– Are you a hunter or a gatherer?

Panzano: In terms of food? I’d like to think I’m a hunter, but I’m really a gatherer.

FOP: Any reason why?

Panzano: Umm, if it’s just food, I want to be able to say that I know how to catch a raw fish and cook it, skin it and all that. When really, I’d be a gatherer, in that, the things that I know that I could eat, that are edible that I would be satisfied with that, because I’m focused on other things. But if you’re talking about hunter-gatherer in terms of trying to get them the best scores as possible on the AP test… I’m a hunter. I’m always hunting for new things and stuff to do, versus just sort of like gathering what other people have done and making it my own. It depends on how deep the metaphor goes, haha.