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Michael Giardi: “He Puts His All Into Teaching”

Michael Giardi, the subject of one of today’s Marblehead Beacon’s Teacher Appreciation Week teacher features, is the head of the math department at Marblehead High School (MHS), an assistant coach of the varsity football team, and the head coach of both the varsity baseball and basketball teams. Suffice it to say he has dedicated significant amounts of time to MHS’s students, and as the student who nominated him wrote, “it is obvious how passionate he is about what he teaches and [he] truly wants all his students to succeed.”


Giardi has lived in Salem, Massachusetts for his entire life, remaining there to this day. He has a younger brother, and his father – who attended Boston College on a full football scholarship – met his mother – who attended Northeastern – during their college years. Giardi attended Salem High School and Harvard University, where he played both football and baseball and was inducted into the Harvard Hall of Fame and awarded the Ivy League Player of the Year in 1994. He spent his first few undergraduate years in engineering, eventually switching to and graduating with a degree in general sciences with a focus on physics. 


Giardi explains that on the day of his college commencement, he received an invitation from the San Francisco Giants to try out for their minor league team, followed by an offer to play. Giardi was informed that he would be traveling to Everett, which he assumed meant Massachusetts, but he ultimately found himself on a plane to Washington state, where he played his first season in 1994. He was then picked up by the New York Yankees, where he remained as a member of their minor league team from 1995 to 1996. His last pro baseball move was with the Montreal Expos, where he was ultimately cut in the following year’s final day of spring training.


Following his stint as a professional baseball player, Giardi changed courses, taking up a job working in quality control for the Ted Williams Tunnel project as part of the “Big Dig.” He then worked for a private company in construction until 2001, at which point he transitioned officially to the education field, earned his Masters in education at Salem State University, and made his way to Marblehead High School, where he has remained ever since. Giardi spoke of his experience as a first-year teacher during the attacks of September 11th, explaining that “it was really, really tough, but it was eye opening and a learning experience…and I fell in love with it right from the get go.”


Giardi had always been interested in teaching and, during his time as an athlete, he had taken on a temporary post as an eighth grade teacher during the off season, a role that would end up influencing his later career path. He describes an experience with one student who seemed distant and disengaged but – on Giardi’s last day before returning to baseball – gifted him a set of pens engraved with Giardi’s initials as a going-away present. Giardi uses this experience to highlight what he loves so much about education: “Even if you don’t see it on the surface, having a connection like that can be huge.” With regard to his current significant time commitment to both academics and sports at MHS, he says “I just don’t like downtime. It drives me crazy…I feel like I should always be doing something, and it helps to create connections with the students.”


Giardi mentions that one difficulty he sees in the classroom is maintaining a standard of rigor that doesn't impede students’ mental health. “You don’t want to drive kids away from school; you want them to learn,” he says, “but there also has to be structure and discipline.” He notes that he often sees this ideal combination in sports, an inspiring balance between discipline and enjoyment. He also notes that teachers are often bogged down with quite a bit of work behind the scenes that precludes them from giving 100 percent to their students. “I just want to engage the kids,” he explains, “I don’t want to report out to everybody about what the kids are doing.”


It is extremely evident, both from the student who nominated Giardi and from experiences with students who have taken his classes, that he genuinely cares about the kids. He explains that he “likes to have fun” in the classroom and that he doesn’t like to place unnecessary pressure on the students but that he finds value in “putting a lot of responsibility on the kids to take care of their own business.” He goes on to note that “I think I’ve had a ton of success with just being honest with the kids…I want them to be comfortable enough to come up and tell me how they are feeling.”


Another demonstration of Giardi’s dedication to his students is the “late night classrooms” that he runs, usually prior to exams. He, along with his fellow AP Calculus teacher Alyssa Grivakis, opens his classroom to students around 7:30 pm, with many students remaining for several hours to work with Giardi in preparation for an upcoming test. The idea arose out of his observation that extracurriculars placed constraints on students’ availability and energy, so he created the late-night classroom as a low-stress environment where “the kids get more from just being together than from me.” 


Outside of school, Giardi still plays baseball and runs camps for younger athletes over the summers and school vacations, and he likes to travel to visit family. Giardi jokes that, “I’m waiting for a student to come back in 10 years and say ‘Mr. Giardi, I owe it all to you’ and hand me millions of dollars,” but if this plan never comes to fruition, Giardi says that “I love teaching,” and he plans to remain in education of some form for the foreseeable future. 


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