Bonding Chemicals and Students

Rice’s AU-some Chemistry Teacher in his element.


Mike Mazzella with his AP Chemistry students in November. (Photo/Megan Shrestha)

Laina Williams, Staff Writer

Rice offers many science courses with multiple teachers. Mike Mazzella is a Chemistry teacher at Rice Memorial High School who teaches Honors and AP Chemistry. Students are always met with a welcoming hello and often a funny joke. Mazzella keeps his room decorated with factual posters alongside T-Shirts from the AP Chemistry classes, all of which are painted with scientific puns. Students are met with a warmup question as Mazzella makes his rounds checking homework which ranges from worksheets to video lectures made by the teacher himself.  

His room is almost always occupied by students seeking help, extra work time, and support. Prior to exams, Mazzella makes sure the students are equipped with every resource necessary to succeed as well as an in-depth study guide. Mazzella has been teaching at Rice for 8 years. While chemistry is the only course he formally teaches, Mazzella has degrees in Biology and Chemistry education. He is a well-loved teacher at Rice Memorial, and Mazzella’s hands-on explorative teaching style is a perfect fit for most students when it comes to learning this tricky subject.

Mike Mazzella posing with a coffee cup. (Photo/Laina Williams)

What made you choose to study/teach chemistry?

Like molecules, I like how they interact, and like the world of them. I like to helping people early on as well, helping people to understand them, the molecules that run around run our society and I like how they interact, what they do, and what physical properties we see that we can explain. 

Did you go straight into teaching and if not, what did you do prior to?

I did not. I went to pharmacy school first. And then I spent two and a half years in pharmacy school and then transferred out to the College of St. Rose where I got my educational degree and my chemistry biology

Why did you decide to go into the teaching aspect of chemistry?

I’m very social. I like talking to people like I like helping people out. I like helping people when they have their highs and lows and helping them uncover a world that seems very hard. Very tough to grasp because you don’t see it. But the right guy can help you with that and I’ve had both good and bad. So I strive to put myself there to help be the right guy.

What was your first teaching experience like?

One word to describe it was awful. When I student taught, I was a very lecture-only based teacher and would get frustrated in yell quite easily. When I first started I always felt I tried to use stuff that didn’t fit me. That became very clunky and very awkward and through that it didn’t come out right. So I was leaning more towards the other side of teaching which was very cold and very hard. I tried to put myself forward a couple of times and just didn’t do it properly or well, and then ended up coming out good at all.

What’s something you wish you knew before choosing to study chemistry in college?

Stay with it. It was going to be hard, but just stay with it. I was seeking help. I chose a different path to for things. I wish I had done teaching early instead of pharmacy. And I wish I went to a bit bigger college that had more degrees so I could shift instead of transitioning instead of transferring out and then having to transfer to a new school. That sent me back quite a bit.

If you could tell your students/future students any advice what would it be?

I’d say talk to everybody. You’re in a new start, be open to the new start to talk to everyone because when you do that opportunities come out that you don’t even realize and don’t be afraid of the unknown. And also don’t be afraid to reset again. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.

What’s your favorite element and why? 

So it’s tungsten because it is virtually indestructible. It has the highest melting point around. It’s also my wedding ring. Oh, and chemically unreactive, too, so I could dip this thing in anything I wanted to and it wouldn’t react.

Was there anything other than chemistry or pharmacy that you were interested in studying?

Not really no. If I didn’t do that, if I didn’t go into pharmacy or if I didn’t go into teaching I probably would have gone into sales and business terrifies me to say that but yeah.

What’s the hardest part about being a high school chemistry teacher?

The hardest part is probably dealing with the emotions that go right through the ups and downs of going through the content. Takes a lot, it’s beyond chemistry as well.

What’s the most rewarding part about being a high school chemistry teacher

When the student gets it after they’ve worked hard. Someone’s work worked their tail off. Again, you get it you’re not gonna get them to stop when you’ve seen the work put through and then at the end of the year. You can see that they get it they understand it.

If you could go back to your senior year of high school, is there anything you would do differently?

I’d probably pick a different college, a bigger college. But if I knew what I was going to study and if I knew what I knew now I would have ended up transferring simply within the university, instead of having to transfer out to go to a new school. Because when you do that you lose a lot of credits. So I had 160 college credits at the end of two years and I lost half whereas I probably wouldn’t have lost all that if I had transferred within the university