East Orange teacher prevails as New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange STEM Academy social studies teacher Theresa Maughan was recognized for her outstanding work as an educator when she was named New Jersey State Teacher of the Year for 2021-2022. Previously, Maughan and 20 other New Jersey educators were selected as the top teachers in their respective counties; these teachers then went head-to-head for the state title, and Maughan came out on top. On Oct. 6, East Orange STEM Academy students and faculty rolled out the red carpet in grand fashion and honored Maughan.

As an educator for 34 years, Maughan has taught many students and has gained academic excellence by teaching at East Orange High School, East Orange Campus High School and now STEM Academy, gaining a number of allies throughout the scholastic system. In what looked like a pep rally, the city of East Orange, the East Orange School District, staff and students supported Maughan jubilantly.

There to honor Maughan was East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green, who is a strong advocate of education, due to his parents and siblings all being involved in the education system.

“We are very honored to know that Mrs. Theresa Maughan is being honored with the State Teacher of the Year. That speaks volumes, because the last time there was a recipient here, that was almost 15-20 years ago,” Green said Oct. 6. “It just shows that a teacher of her magnitude can bring her professionalism into our school system.

“You heard the young people’s testimonies of how she touched their lives. So many kids have been a part of her teachings, her mentorship, and for her to dream one day to be a teacher and to come in and do the things she has done, I just hope this sends a message to other great teachers that we have,” he continued. “This just shows that we have great teachers in East Orange that care about our students, care about education and care about the future of our youth.”

In addition to Maughan being awarded New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, she was also presented with a car from the New Jersey Education Association, much to the surprise of the community, including Maughan and her family. As part of the state honor, Maughan is tasked for the next six months with traveling to districts across the state, telling her story and sharing the impact of education for students while providing professional development. The car, which came with gas money and an E-ZPass transponder, will certainly help her in this endeavor. Maughan will have use of the car for one year.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Anita Champagne said this celebration of Maughan was well deserved.

“Today, we’ve had the wonderful opportunity of (celebrating) one of our teachers at STEM Academy named Teacher of the Year for the state of New Jersey,” Champagne said Oct. 6. “Out of all of the districts in New Jersey, Theresa Maughan has been selected as the (top educator) that is innovative.”

Champagne lauded Maughan for “the relationships that she has developed with the students, and that empowerment that she provides to them to let them know that they have a voice. Not just that, she becomes a leader and a model for the adults and the educators as well. She really puts together what it means to care about where education can take you. She tells her own story of coming to the country, of not having and then really knowing that education is the pathway to success. She really makes me proud.”

Originally from Belize, Maughan long considered herself a dreamer. As the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, Maughan held the keys to the new car in her hand and continued to let the shock of it all sink in.

“It is a bit surreal. The announcement caught me off guard because there were so many amazing members in my county Teacher of the Year cohorts that any one of them would’ve been worthy of this recognition, but I also appreciate it as recognition for my lifetime achievement, and I’m extremely proud to have this honor,” Maughan said Oct. 6. “The car is mine for a year. It’s given to me to enable me to fulfill my responsibility as the State Teacher of the Year, because I will be asked to travel throughout the state to conduct workshops, participate in panels. I will be in Trenton working with the Department of Education once my sabbatical begins.

“My advice to other teachers is to remember why we became teachers, to remember that the secret to longevity is to have continual professional development, to continue to try new things, and also, this reward is wonderful, but the greatest reward is what we reap from the work we do with our students and just having that day-to-day impact in helping to change their situations and help them to become the best versions of themselves.”

Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman