EAST ORANGE, NJ — When the New Jersey Department of Education announced the 2021-2022 county Teachers of the Year on Wednesday, Aug. 25, the educator chosen to receive the award for Essex County was East Orange STEM Academy social studies teacher Theresa Maughan.
An educator for 34 years within the district, Maughan was born in Belize and emigrated with her family to Jersey City. She has been recognized as an exemplary teacher many times, including having been named Teacher of the Year at East Orange High School, East Orange Campus High School and East Orange STEM Academy. Maughan is also the 2021 New Jersey History Day Senior Division Teacher of the Year and a College Board AP reader, as well as a mentor for student teachers from Rutgers University. She has also presented several interdisciplinary professional development workshops for the district.
Maughan said being selected as county Teacher of the Year was something special.
“When you watch the award ceremony, you become aware of each of their commitments to educating the students in New Jersey,” Maughan said on Friday, Sept. 3. “I believe that, within the group, my career as a New Jersey educator spans the most years, and it is a bit surreal to receive this honor at this point in my career. However, receiving this recognition justifies my lifelong commitment to my professional development.
“The pandemic has presented teachers with many challenges, but these challenges do not define us, nor should they force us from a profession we love,” she continued. “Despite having a master’s degree in administration and supervision, I chose to remain a classroom teacher, because I knew it was where I could have the greatest daily impact on students.… The CTOYs are mere exemplars of the professionalism of the teachers and the instructional strategies utilized to educate NJ’s students.”
According to a press release from the state, selection of the county Teachers of the Year is part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s Educator of the Year Program. The New Jersey Department of Education uses the program to promote a positive school culture by acknowledging the hard work and dedication of outstanding teachers. Individual schools are encouraged to nominate exceptional educators with diverse backgrounds, to ensure that honorees represent the ethnic and racial diversity of New Jersey. The New Jersey School Boards Association contributed to the effort and recently praised the 21 educators. As a contributor, the NJSBA provides free classroom resources to the recognized educators.
For Maughan, teaching had a pivotal impact on her life and that of her family. When she was in seventh grade, she said, her social studies teacher launched a campaign to help save her family from deportation.
“She arranged for an article in the Jersey Journal and launched a community letter-writing campaign to our congressman at the time,” she said. “Her efforts worked, and my family was able to go through the naturalization process, ultimately becoming American citizens. My teacher ignited our class with the realization that we could take our civics lessons and use them in real-life situations.
“In high school, I had the opportunity to learn from a history teacher that inspired me to think like a historian and uncover historical evidence through research,” Maughan continued. “The day she assigned me the role of ‘teacher for the day,’ as we proceeded through a simulation of the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, I was hooked. Even though I had contemplated a career as an immigration lawyer, to help those who were experiencing challenges similar to my seventh-grade experience, I knew that a career as a teacher would provide me with the best opportunity to fulfill my commitment to work for change.” NJDOE spokesperson Michael Yaple said that the state Teacher of the Year is selected from the county Teachers of the Year.
“That is typically announced in October, and the state Teacher of the Year is eligible for the title of national Teacher of the Year,” Yaple said on Friday, Sept. 3. “The National Teacher of the Year Program was established in the 1950s by the Council of Chief State School Officers, and New Jersey signed on with CCSSO in 1969.”
In Maughan’s opinion, what made her stand out among the rest of the teachers in Essex County was her ability to demonstrate to her students how they can make a difference in the world, as well as her ability to design and implement lessons infused with different perspectives on history. Maughan will now have a chance to advance to state and national levels.
“My mission is to recruit people from diverse backgrounds to recognize that teaching is a great option for a career, and I hope to encourage those already in my profession to stay the course and continue on this journey towards becoming the best educators for our students,” Maughan said. “I view myself as an ambassador for my profession, and I have been rewarded by the fact that several of my former students are now educators in my school district as well. I truly feel that I have had a successful career as an educator.”