Sussex Tech English teacher will travel to California, D.C.
Virginia “Jinni” Forcucci is the 2018 Delaware State Teacher of the Year, and the only teacher at Sussex Technical High School in Georgetown that doesn’t use a smartboard.
“I believe discourse is the absolute best way to communicate,” she said. “Eye contact needs to be established.”
The 46-year-old Forcucci has been teaching at Sussex Tech since 1996, first as a long-term substitute and coach and then as an English teacher.
“I was finally able to finagle my way into a classroom that already had my name on the door,” she laughed.
Forcucci has always loved reading, but she didn’t always know she wanted to be an English teacher.
“I wanted someone to pay me to read books,” she said. “But that wasn’t going to get me a paycheck.”
She majored in English literature at the University of Delaware and was sent to observe a classroom in her junior year.
“It wasn’t until then that I realized [I wanted to teach],” she said. “I fell in love with it. It was just one of those things.” Later she obtained a master’s degree in rhetoric and composition at Salisbury University and has completed additional graduate work at Wilmington University.
Forcucci grew up in Felton and graduated from Lake Forest High. She lives in Rehoboth Beach with her husband, DJ Forcucci, and their two sons, 13-year-old Finn and 9-year-old Cooper. Both boys attend Cape Henlopen School District schools.
After graduating from UD, Forcucci did what a lot of Delaware twenty-somethings do – she moved to the beach and took advantage of the money to be made and the fun to be had in the restaurant industry. She still waits tables in the summer.
“I’m very much a people person. I enjoy learning about people and fostering relationships,” she said.
Eventually, with the prompting of her parents, she applied for the Sussex Tech job.
“When I started [at Sussex Tech] there was still very much a mindset of it being a dumping ground for kids that didn’t really want to go to college,” she said. “We were trying to foster a curriculum that was academic, but also focused on the trades, sort of ‘tech-ademics.’ So I was part of the building of that, and it’s something I take great pride in.”
Forcucci considers her and her husband a team, at home and at Sussex Tech. She teaches certain tenth and twelfth grade English classes and creative writing, while her husband teaches eleventh grade English classes.
“When the kids get him [for a teacher] they already know our family, so there’s this organic love they already have for him,” she said. “I think the students feel like they’re part of our family. Our boys went to daycare here, too, so it’s really a second home.”
Forcucci also teaches a Widener University course for Sussex Tech seniors interested in earning college credits. Students complete a traditional, freshman English 101-style research paper.
“I get things out of kids that I don’t think they thought they had, and that’s my favorite - when a kid goes, ‘I didn’t know I was capable of this. I didn’t know I could achieve this level of academia,’” Forcucci said. “When you write a 10-page paper, you get that sense of accomplishment. They have an artifact to prove how hard they worked.”
During the second semester of the course, her students discuss American short stories, teaching each other rather than being taught. Forcucci assigns them authors like Sherman Alexie, Kate Chopin, John Steinbeck and Joyce Carol Oates.
“The second semester is a dream,” she said. “The kids fall in love with it.”
As the 2018 Delaware State Teacher of the Year, Forcucci is required to turn in a portfolio for National Teacher of the Year. In February, she’ll venture to northern California to meet with other state finalists for workshops. In April, she’ll attend a gala in Washington, D.C., where the National Teacher of the Year will be named. In the meantime, Forcucci is busy fielding media requests, meeting with local legislators and appearing at speaking engagements.
She said a former Delaware State Teacher of the Year gave her some advice.
“She said, ‘Don’t say no to anything. You have one year where people are going to listen to you. This is your chance to make a change.’”
Forcucci wants to focus on showcasing teachers and students doing remarkable things across the state.
“I went to a number of [Delaware schools], my kids attend school in a different district. I’m not a big self-promoter, I just support kids,” she said.
She also wants to encourage other educators to understand their students’ thought processes, something she calls a student’s “why.”
“I want to know their ‘why.’ I want to know what instigates a child’s passion,” she said. “When I understand he likes the color blue and is motivated by it, then I learn about the color blue so we can talk about it. When I understand what motivates them, I can use that as leverage in teaching them.”
What Forcucci isn’t interested in is moving up the administrative ranks.
“This is it. This is where I belong,” she said. “I don’t ever want to leave the classroom; I could never be an administrator. I’ll just keep revisiting what I do and making it better.”