‘Inspire students’

South Williamsport teacher continues to connect

When everyone in your family is either an educator or a doctor, your choices are pretty much narrowed down. Rich Zalonis chose education.

“Everybody in my family is either an educator or a doctor. So, I chose the education route. A lot of it was because of siblings, a lot was because of people who helped guide me when I was in school — coaches, inspiring teachers. I’ve always wanted to give back,” he said.

His friends in the Mahanoy area, where Zalonis is originally from, remind him that he always wanted to be a teacher and coach, he said. They remind him how in third grade he was “out with a clipboard drawing plays.”

When both his parents passed away by the time he was 11 years old, Zalonis, who teaches history and psychology at South Williamsport Area Jr./Sr. High School, moved to South Williamsport and was raised by his brother who was 20 years older. Both his brother and his wife were teachers in this area, one at South and one at Montgomery.

Zalonis remembers teachers at both school districts whom he admired such as “Mr. Tack, Mr. Owens and I always looked up to them because they were coaches,” he said.

The history and psychology teacher also has coached various sports, primarily football, for part of his teaching career. In 33 years of teaching, Zalonis estimates he has taught over 3,000 students. And during that time he has seen a difference in his profession.

“It’s different in a whole bunch of areas, for the good and for the bad,” he said. “Technology has helped the profession in many ways and in some ways it’s hurt the profession. Kids are more savvy today, more streetwise, more technologically oriented. You have to be on your toes to be able to keep up with them.”

Zalonis also noted that he wants to pass on more than just history lessons as well.

“I want them to have some social skills when they leave here to learn to work with people they don’t always get along with. To be able to agree and disagree the right way,” he said.

He is quick to note that the kids haven’t really changed that much, although he does “see a difference in circumstances and other things.”

“Every year I come in, I’m a year older, but they’re still freshmen,” he said. “You have to find ways to meet them on their level.”

So after his many years of teaching what keeps him going?

“It’s the kids, definitely the kids. Absolutely, in my opinion, if they’re not your number one reason for coming in here everyday, you need to get out. It’s not about pensions, it’s not about contracts. I would hope you have a passion and a love for trying to inspire and generate sparks and give some of these children something to look forward,” he said. “There is not anything else I’d rather be doing. It’s really about relationships. It really is.”

“I do it to hopefully to inspire students to reach their full potential. I enjoy my students and hopefully they enjoy coming in here most days,” Zalonis said. “Hopefully I’ve done that over 30 some years. If you can do that with one or two kids, it’s worthwhile.”