LYNNFIELD — Ernestine Struzziero likes her peach tea iced and unsweetened. The preference is fitting.
After 47 years of dictating lab report write-ups, she is straight to the point: “I’ve never been good at expounding,” she said. The truth is regular iced tea would just be too boring for the mushroom-hunting, hometown-team-rooting teacher who has never stopped learning.
Struzziero retired this past month after a quiet but storied career in education. To do one thing for more than half of your life seems unnatural — unless, of course, you love it with your entire five-foot being.
“You know, they ask me how I did this for so long,” she said, shrugging. “And it’s just my passion. Forty-seven years. I
couldn’t have done it if I didn’t love it.”
Before she graduated from Northeastern University, Struzziero first worked as a co-op at Lahey Health back when it was located on Boston’s Bay State Road. She then worked at Boston Children’s Hospital as a bacteriologist clinician, where she discovered she had a knack for teaching.
She handled the “agar plates” (petri dishes) and “gram staining” (distinguishing between two different types of bacteria), and she even “taught some of the doctors” along the way, she said. If she taught them anything like she taught her AP Biology students, those doctors will still remember the lessons they learned from her, too.
Struzziero spent 17 of her 47 years in education in the Lynnfield High School science department. She taught chemistry and biology, everything from the periodic table to the human body.
“They revised the course (AP Bio) again,” she said. “They got rid of the nervous system and the endocrine system and the cardiovascular system. But I would’ve still taught it anyway because it’s important. I always taught more of what I thought was important than I did to the (AP) test,” she said, sipping her peach tea.
No matter what she taught, all Struzziero ever asked of her students was “your best effort.” Granted, the labs were long and the exams were hard, and to be 17 and enrolled in a college-level course that was taught by someone who could run intellectual circles around most college professors, “your best effort” was no small ask.
Still, for someone who believes in the value of a handwritten card — “It’s a lost art,” Struzziero said — teaching her students through a screen for the first time in her final year was, to say the least, a challenge.
“(Remote learning) was very one-sided,” she said. “You know when the screen goes black they’re all just lying in bed, so I would find myself yelling into the void, ‘Is anybody out there? Can you hear me? Are you in space?’”
She chuckled once more — there is rarely anything she isn’t a good sport about. Retiring in the middle of a global pandemic, however, remains less than ideal even for the most inquisitive of science teachers.
Like Struzziero, Lynnfield School Superintendent Jane Tremblay, who is also stepping down, knows what it’s like to retire in these uncertain times.
“It’s so hard because you just don’t have the closure and experience you thought you would have, so I know it’s been a struggle at times,” said Tremblay. “Ernestine is a dedicated and caring educator who made a difference every day in the lives of our students at LHS. She will be truly missed when we open our doors in September.”
Though she has her part-time job of 20 years at Pier 1 Imports to tide her over until the fall, Struzziero knows her new reality has yet to set in.
“I’m very loyal. I tend to find the things I like and stick to them. But I think I’m still processing, and it will really hit me in September,” she said.
Struzziero imagines she will continue to find herself in a classroom — even if it’s not her own. Local colleges such as Endicott and Merrimack offer courses for senior citizens to audit, she said, and, as someone who has always found herself drawn to the law, she also hopes to check out the programs at Massachusetts Law School in Andover.
Even in retirement, she says she will continue to learn. And in life, she will continue to teach — even when she doesn’t realize it.
“You know, you don’t always have to be the ‘A student.’ If you have that passion and work hard, you can do anything,” she said, waving one hand in the air as she threw away her empty peach tea with the other.
“And don’t let anybody tell you you can’t.”