Teachers@ED: Vanessa Tesoriero, Small Business Innovation Research Program Specialist

Vanessa Tesoriero lost her hearing at age 17, which was all the more challenging due to a great love of music. “I grew up playing the piano, flute, guitar, and singing,” Tesoriero said in an interview for the Homeroom Blog. “Music was a huge part of my life.” But instead of giving up her favorite activities, this obstacle was surmounted with a fierce determination and desire to help others in the Deaf community and beyond.

Teachers@ED LogoTesoriero decided to turn her frustration into inspiration. The motivation behind Tesoriero’s teaching stemmed from wanting a deeper understanding of her own disability.  Driven to find the answers, in college, she learned sign language and studied audiology, speech pathology, and linguistics.  She soon grew to love teaching others, which eventually led her to become a teacher and later brought her to Department of Education in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

She attended Columbia University’s Teachers College, studying Deaf Education. Upon graduating she went on to teach at a state school for the deaf in Brooklyn, later moving to the New York City Public School system to teach at the city’s only public school for the deaf.

“I always wanted to share music with my students – even though some skeptics would ask why I would want to teach music to deaf children. It seemed almost ironic, but my students love dance, vibration, and music. Everyone loves music!”

Vanessa Tesoriero

Vanessa Tesoriero

While teaching, Tesoriero directed the school musical, “Free to Be You and Me”, striking a chord with both the hearing and deaf students of the school, as it “brought the whole community together” with a compilation of songs, poetry, skits and dance. Based on the book by Marlo Thomas and Friends, the essence of the play focused upon promoting individuality and comfort with your identity.

“It was a showcase of everyone’s talents, and the students loved it. I played the piano while the children sang, signed and danced. It gave these children a sense of confidence that some weren’t necessarily experiencing in the classroom academically. It really opened up opportunities for kids to shine in other ways.”

Inside Tesoriero’s classroom, learning exercises accompanied the similar theme of inclusion and promotion of self-identity. Using “open-ended” approaches, she allowed the students to be creative and approach problems differently.

“I wanted to open their minds to the value of differences, promote respect, tolerance, and cooperation in showing them that being different can be a good thing.”

Tesoriero’s experience in the classroom continues to play an important role in her job at the Department of Education. After her recent completion of the Administration Program for Special Education Leaders at Johns Hopkins University, Tesoriero now finds herself at ED as the Small Business Innovation Research Program Specialist at the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

She oversees grantees who are researching and developing cutting-edge technologies and products that focus on helping people with disabilities. With views as a consumer, advocate, and educator, Tesoriero is excited to be part of the process, as she understands just how important these kinds of developments are.

Catherine Tracy

Catherine Tracy is a student at Stonehill College and a recent intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Ed. Note: This post is one in a series of blog posts that highlights teachers at the Department of Education who offer invaluable expertise and continue their commitment to education, the teaching profession and students.


  1. Fiercely determined is exactly the right description for you, Vanessa. Your exceptional background has brought you to a place where you can apply everything you know and love to helping others. I am so proud of you! Lead on!

  2. This article confirms the importance of schools to provide all students the opportunity to develop and share their affinities. At Waialua Elementary, we have a school within a school called the Academies. Here all students ( 2nd grade – 6th grade) select a class (music, athletics, media, astronomy, community service, drama, etc,) and develop their interest through some project that can be shared. Students who feel inadequate in the academics find their self worth in drama or some other field. Students with disabilites can find a place to excel.

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