Meet Chemistry teacher Joe Tarello

Mr. Joseph Tarello

Teaching chemistry at Somerville High School

Visit Somerville High School on any given day and you will see Joe Tarello prepping his chemistry lab at 5:30 in the morning. Between classes, he is in the hallways greeting students, fielding questions and checking in with other teachers. Joe Tarello is in his 53rd year of teaching at Somerville High School. As he cheerfully says, he has been teaching for “a lifetime.”  After graduating from Somerville High School in 1960 and earning a Chemistry degree from Boston State (now UMass Boston), Joe Tarello went straight into teaching at Somerville High School. He always knew he wanted to be an educator and he always loved chemistry.


Sophomore Honors Chemistry student presents his science project

Motivating to succeed

Joe Tarello is passionate about Science Fairs. He organized Somerville High School's inaugural Science Fair project 52 years ago. Somerville High School graduate and Director of Student Services, Rich Melillo, can recall the details of his 1972 science fair project to this day. He credits Mr. Tarello with imbuing in him a lifelong love for science. Rich was an accomplished basketball player, but it was Joe Tarello’s honors Chemistry class that made Rich Melillo realize he could succeed academically. He says “I was an athlete and that came with it’s own stigma. Mr. Tarello got me on track academically.”  Mr. Tarello challenged Rich in the classroom and also supported him outside the classroom. When Rich wanted a stereo system he couldn’t afford, Mr. Tarello worked with Rich to wire and modify an 8-track tape player and even found component parts, like a transistor and speakers.

It’s clear when you visit Joe Tarello in the classroom that he loves teaching his students and his subject matter. He praises his group of Sophomore AP Chemistry students repeatedly as a “great group of students”. Mr. Tarello says, “I love chemistry, I love reading, I love teaching my classes and I love to see kids succeed in it.” He has taught and inspired an impressive number of students who went on to successful careers in medicine and the sciences. Many of them are still in frequent contact with him decades later. As Rich says, “he instills confidence in the people around him. I was in a class with 14 kids and 4 became doctors.”

In his own words, Mr. Tarello teaches because he loves “motivating students and seeing them succeed and go on into scientific and medical fields”.


Sophomore Chemistry students conduct experiment

Changes in the classroom

Mr. Tarello has been a lifelong learner. He earned a masters, took coursework and taught courses over the arc of his career and his classroom has evolved with new technologies. He has seen student work on graph paper lab books, the introduction of calculators, computers into the class, and smart phones to record lab results. He embraces any technology that enhances student understanding. 

Mr. Tarello talks about the online lab report as ‘a work of art’. He says they can be checked more regularly than the paper lab reports and include a lot more information. Using computer modelling, students now put their lab data into charts and graphs that make their results much easier to understand.  He also notes, that “many things go around and come around again.” With good teaching as his bedrock, he has seen “change for the sake of change sometimes." He says, "Many times we try things, then go right back to the way we did things many years ago.”

In the words of former Science Department Head, Karen Woods, "Each time I visit his classroom, all students are engaged in learning and doing chemistry. He is able to motivate even the most reluctant learners."

R. Ronen, Communications Specialist, Somerville Public Schools

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