BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The New Jersey Department of Education has named a Bloomfield educator its 2015-2016 Essex County Teacher of the Year.
Oak View Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Jessica Picciuto accepted her award at the Wednesday, Oct. 28, meeting of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
In an interview at the school earlier this week, Picciuto said she has been a teacher for seven years, all with Oak View. This is her second year as a fourth-grade teacher. Previously, she taught third grade.
“In the fourth grade, a teacher builds upon problem-solving skills and independent work,” she said. “The independence is in terms of responsibility, work ethic and drive.”
Picciuto completed her bachelor’s degree at Monmouth College. She has a Master’s in reading and is certified as a reading specialist. She is presently going for a second Master’s. This would be in educational leadership — in preparation of administrative roles — if her career should go in that direction.
“I focus on building confidence in a student and a love of learning,” she said. “By instilling that, you overcome any difficulties.”
Her fourth-grade class is inclusive, with a paraprofessional and a special-education teacher working with her.
“I love to start the day in class on a positive note,” she said. “We start with the flag salute and a morning greeting. It can be a high-five.”
Each day she will have a student pick a question that each classmate will answer.
“It takes about five minutes and then we get started,” she said. “Math is the first class.”
Like an overwhelming number in her profession, Picciuto said she always wanted to be a teacher.
“My first-grade teacher, she was just so kind and caring,” Picciuto recalled. “She just went above and beyond.”
That teacher, who made an impression on Picciuto that lasted a lifetime, Charlene Afflito Thomas, contacted her when she heard about the award. Thomas is still a teacher.
But unlike many in her profession, Picciuto is the only teacher in her family.
“It’s just a fact that a child will remember you the rest of their life,” she said. “It’s what I start off with each day. It’s important to think that when you need more patience and energy, you remember you’re there for the students.”
Picciuto became eligible to be considered for the recognition by being chosen as the 2014-2015 Oak View Teacher of the Year.
“I filled out an application,” she said, although teachers chosen for their school do not have to apply for the Essex County award. “I had to at least try for Oak View.”
Her hard work has paid off.
“The difference a teacher can make in a child is for a lifetime, not just a school year,” she said.