After 41 years, Nevins ready to bid adieu to Bloomfield public schools

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Bloomfield High School special education teacher Terry Nevins is retiring this month after 41 years in the district.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Terry Nevins, an English and special education teacher at Bloomfield High School, will retire this month after 41 years in the district. Growing up in the township, she attended Watsessing Elementary School and South Junior High School. She is a 1977 graduate of BHS and received her Bachelor of Arts from William Paterson University in 1981. Her master’s degree in career education for the handicapped was conferred by Kean University. She also attained certification in supervision and administration from the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

“I loved kids,” she said in an interview in her BHS classroom. “I was a kid who played school on the front porch. The neighborhood kids didn’t like me because I made them play school.”

She said that all her cousins became teachers.

“I came from a very conservative family,” she said. “You had relatives that were in certain fields. All my female cousins were teachers, and I followed in their footsteps.”

She was a student teacher at Forest Glen School and was hired there as a regular teacher in 1981.

“I have had a lot to do with the Special Olympics in Bloomfield,” she said. “I’m the coordinator. I’ve been involved since 1977 — that’s a long time. I was president of the Girls Athletic Association at the high school; it was their intramural program.” 

Reflecting on the development of special education in Bloomfield, Nevins said the township has come far.

“When I started, it was preschool through 21-year-olds in one building,” she said of the cloistered special needs program. “Now special ed is in all schools, and the students go to the proms and walk in the graduation procession with their peers.”

Nevins said teaching has not been work for her; it has been love.

“I’m with kids I love and adore,” she said. “And I’ve been given the support by the administration that’s really helped our students. Our students are competitively employed in town.”

She said teaching has changed drastically. Before, she would teach basics; now, she teaches a modified yet traditional curriculum. Various advancements have changed life for teachers of special education and their students.

“We had a young man in our after-school program who worked at Hot Bagels,” she said of the Broad Street mainstay. “This was pre–cell phone, and he had to take two buses and would fall asleep. We would give the bus driver a gift to wake him up. But now, cell phones have an alarm.”

Another change, Nevins said, is the use of debit cards. She said learning the arithmetic of currency is difficult for students of special education. Using debit cards instead of cash is a life skill for these students. 

Additionally, when she student-taught, she worked with high-functioning special needs students. She later worked with lower-functioning students in the classroom. Early in Nevins’ career, she saw minimal integration of these two groups of students. Now, however, with the increase of paraprofessionals, such integration has increased. 

Motioning with a wave of her hand toward the pictures of children taped to her blackboard, Nevins said there were so many pictures and faces, and the world belongs also to students with special needs, as it should.

“When you have integration, you’ve helped the world understand you,” she said. “It’s exposure, knowledge and acceptance. People fear the unknown.”

Nevins said the time has come for her to retire.

“I’d stay forever, if I could,” she said. “But I’ve decided to do other things. I’m involved with the Special Olympics on the county level. I’m a grandma. And it’s nice to retire while you’re still happy and love your profession. And people will come in with new ideas. You need that progress.”

Nevins loves to road cycle. She lives in a lake community, so she will throw the kayak into the water and have some fun.

“I have three beautiful grandchildren,” she said. “I’ll take them out and spoil them, too.”

Asked how she would advise someone who was considering the teaching path she traveled, Nevins said she would remind them that they are dealing with someone’s most precious individual, and that every teacher should always remember that.