Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Theresa Vedovatti, 47, I was born in Great Falls and grew up “commuting” between Chicago and Montana. My parents are from Conrad and Butte, but we moved to Illinois when I was very young. Every summer, we returned to Montana to spend time with family and enjoy all of the history and beauty of our amazing state. When I was in middle school, we moved back to Big Sky Country. College brought me back to Chicago, then to Spokane (Go Zags!), and I eventually “landed” amidst the majestic Rocky Mountains in the city of Helena, Montana where I teach and have raised my two greatest blessing in life, my children. I have earned degrees in Special Education, General Education, and I have a Master’s Degree in Learning Development.
Let’s talk about teaching. What drew you to that profession?
From the age of eight, I believed I was destined to become a teacher; I have found great fulfillment in this vocation. Children have been a tremendous influence in the person I have become, and each day, I am reminded that our young people are to be treasured as a special gift, and I can learn as much from them (or more) as they learn from me.
Although I never pictured myself educating hormone-crazed adolescents, I have been teaching middle school for 22 years! My passion for children with diverse needs drew me to take my first job as a special education teacher in an inner city environment outside of Portland, Oregon. The next year, I was transferred to a multi-age, inclusion classroom (grades 4/5) and swore that I would not teach beyond fifth grade because middle school students would “eat me alive!” As I have matured, I have come to understand the concept of “If you ever want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” When I returned to Montana to start a family, the only position I was offered was seventh grade special education. It terrified me! I said no to the position, but the principal would not take no for an answer, so I eventually took a job at C.R. Anderson Middle School in Helena, Montana. When I began teaching seventh graders, I realized that they are just kids (I adore all kids), and if I treated them with dignity and respect (which I believe is essential in education), they would respond in kind.
Over the years, I have taught first through eighth grades in a variety of subjects. I currently teach sixth grade English at Helena Middle School, and I have realized that working with middle school students has become my “niche”. I also currently co-coach the Helena Robotics Team and advise a middle school chess club. For years, I coached cross-country and track, which was a joy and allowed me to share my passion for running and mentor young men and women to develop healthy lifestyles through competitive running. Since then, I have discovered my “inner nerd” and have found it exhilarating to encourage students in science, technology, engineering, math, and problem solving. It is a facet of education that I never would have seen coming (just like middle school), but it is my passion to connect with and mentor young adults and support them to become passionate, life-long learners.
What does your perfect day look like?
I love spontaneity, outdoors, laughing, fresh coffee, chocolate, gourmet food, and time with family (which includes our four dogs), and a good book. So, a day that included all of those things without demands, stress, or schedules would be a perfect day.
Tell me about some of your favorite people.
I am blessed with two incredible children. Colby is 20, and he is a junior majoring in Political Science and International Studies with a minor in French at Carroll College in Helena. He is “addicted” to reading, languages, soccer, and world travel. He has a passion to help others in third-world countries and understands the inner-workings of diverse cultures. He has become fluent and/or conversational in as many languages as he could learn and has created connections with many of the international students in high school and college. Sofie, with whom he has developed a special relationship, is from Denmark. For three years and counting, they have maintained a close but long-distance relationship. Colby is involved in Engineers without Borders and is a student government representative at Carroll. This year, he began coaching a middle school soccer team. It is a joy to watch him grow and share his zeal for life with others, especially the next generation.
Savannah is 17, and she is a senior at Helena High School. In addition to blood cells, musical notes course through her blood vessels. As a prospective musical theatre major, Grandstreet Theatre in Helena has been her second home since she was 9. She has been playing violin since she was four, as she matured, she added vocal music and theatre when she was nine, and started playing viola when she was 11. Her dream is to perform on Broadway and plans on attending a university this fall and major in Musical Theatre. She will be auditioning for musical theatre conservatories in Chicago in February. Next fall, she will embark on the magical and challenging journey to become a performing artist.
My best friend and partner, John, has enriched my life beyond measure. We share the love of children, laughter, the outdoors, our dogs, and each other.
How would your friends describe you?
I believe honesty, loyalty, faith, trust, humor, flexibility, resilience, and forgiveness are crucial for a relationship that stands the test of time. Acceptance of faults and allowing for understanding is also essential. Although I am not perfect, these are the qualities that I work to espouse in my relationships. It is my hope that my friends recognize these traits in me.
What do you value most in a friendship?
I truly value someone who gently lets me know when I have something in my teeth or something on my shirt/clothing. 😉 She or he is a person who listens without (too much) judgment, but there is enough trust to be able to accept and communicate honest and constructive feedback. Having a sense of humor to laugh together and trust enough to laugh at each other/ourselves is a must. I appreciate honesty and support in my faith and spirituality. I have found that my closest friends are those who have similar values, but our differences complement each other and help us develop of deeper understanding of each other. I appreciate a person who is willing to look at the different facets of a situation or issue to better understand it. I enjoy a friend who loves to learn about and teach me new things. Someone who appreciates my idiosyncrasies and is willing to accept my faults or at least overlook them (or help me with them) definitely would be a saint as well as a gift to me. “A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” -Elbert Hubbard
If you could meet anyone, living or not, who would you meet?
Who from your past has most influenced who you are today and how?
I don’t think there has been a day that has gone by that a child has not taught me something or inspired me. Unconditional love and acceptance, honesty (and when to curtail comments that may be “too honest”), joy for life, optimism especially in adversity, unwavering faith, perseverance, humor, inner strength, and the ability to be resilient are some of the greatest attributes of children that have taught me so much. Knowing that growing old and growing up are two different things, and being child-like, or at least thinking like and/ or acting like one (in many respects) are positive attributes and may contribute to living past 100!
My former cross-country coach from high school, Patti Miller, has been one of my greatest influences in my life. I was “lost” as a freshman in high school. My mother had just re-married, and we moved to a new town, and everything was new. I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence and struggled with wanting to fit in at my new school. I had a passion for running and joined the cross-country team. Patti not only encouraged me, she pushed me hard, and helped me realize I was much more capable than I gave myself credit for at the time. She saw qualities in me that I didn’t see in myself, or was too critical of myself, to see. I became someone she trusted to take care of her house and animals when she was left town, she taught me how to drive her ’56 Chevy, she took me out to dinner, and came to my choir performances, and track meets. I would receive special gifts from her, and she even came to visit me in Chicago when I went to college there. I felt important and valued, and loved when I questioned my worth and value as a person. Her support allowed me to gain confidence, but also challenge myself to become a better runner and person. When I met Patti, I was torn between being a follower of people who weren’t making the best choices and becoming a leader. I chose to continue to run because of her support and influence. This choice opened the door to many opportunities to make healthy life-long choices and connect with many people who have been positive influences in my life. When I became a high school cross-country coach, she was so proud. As a coach, I utilized the skills and love she had given me to connect to “my” athletes who are now my friends and have families and careers of their own. I feel that she lit the spark that led to a fiery passion that will ripple out to affect people in generations to come. We have continued to keep in touch and remain friends. For her presence in my life, I am forever grateful.
My father has been a wonderful support and inspired me to become an educator. He was an educator, principal, and assistant superintendent; for over 40 years, he worked in the field of education. Most of his years, he worked supporting students with special needs. From a very young age, he brought me into classrooms to work with pre-school children with special needs. He supported me throughout my education and taught me the importance of putting the children first when making decisions in my classroom and as a parent. I understood the acceptance of diversity at a very young age and promoted the understanding that love and respect are paramount in every classroom. When I struggled with my first few years of teaching, he helped me network, and pointed me in the right direction for resources, gave me advice and taught me the significance of setting high standards for myself and for my students as I continued my career as an educator. He taught me the importance of problem-solving and life-long learning. As a grandfather, he is passing these values on to my children, and that is a gift that will be his legacy.
What is one of your favorite quotes?
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” by Martin Luther King Jr. Another one is “Love one another as I have loved you” found in the gospels, said by Jesus.
What is one (or two or three) of your favorite books?
The Book Thief, Unbroken, The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime, The Bible
If you could have any other job besides the one you have, what would it be?
I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. However, after I retire, I would like to train therapy dogs and bring them to places where people, especially children, need comfort, unconditional love, or just a smile.
Coffee or tea?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Introvert or extrovert?
Rural or urban?
Dress up or dress down?
Cats or dogs?
Sunrise or sunset?
Detailed or abstract?
Classic or modern?
Call or text?
Fiction or non-fiction?
Salty or Sweet?
What do you love most about Montana?
To me, there is so much to love, it is difficult to describe in words. It is the place where my family began: from Italy and Ireland to Butte, Conrad, Billings, and Helena. It is where my children grew to become the special people they are, and they continue to grow here. It is where I treasure the majestic mountains, and enjoy the warm sun at the lake and the snowflakes as I cross-country ski. It is the trails where we take our dogs each day, and the wilderness we discover every summer. It’s the lakes, rivers, and national parks; their beauty is beyond description. It is community- like a small town with very long streets. It is biodiversity and uniqueness. It is home.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Raising my children after being divorced. However, it is struggle that causes us to grow.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
God’s faithfulness. No matter what difficulties have befallen my family or me individually, I can always count on His grace, love, and provisions. Without Him, I would not have the blessings of my children, job, home, family, hope and love. The list is never ending.