On February 14, New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, Amy Andersen, visited Bloomfield College to speak with education majors. At the time of this article, Andersen is also in the running for the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, marking the first time since 1972 that a New Jersey teacher has been a finalist for National Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced the spring.
“Our aspiring teacher candidates benefit from meeting and learning from experienced teachers like Ms. Andersen since they get to learn what it takes to become successful educators as well as become inspired.,” said Dr. Amy Eguchi, Associate Professor of Education and Chair of the Division of Education at the College. “It is not an easy path to become a teacher. There are many ups and downs that our students will go through. I hope the stories they hear from inspiring educators will keep them motivated to move forward to make their dream come true in the future.”
Andersen shared her journey from aspiring musician to teacher of the deaf with the future educators.
When she was a child, Andersen’s mother worked as a teacher’s aide with a deaf student. In order to facilitate this student, an educator fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) taught Andersen’s mother how to communicate with her, and Andersen participated in the lessons.
Later, while studying in the prestigious orchestra program at Indiana University, Andersen began taking classes in sign language. Over semester breaks, she substituted at the Cape May County Special Services School District where she was mentored by people such as Kathy Fillipo, a teacher of the deaf. She also worked as an interpreter for a student who was losing her hearing due to lupus.
At the same time, Andersen was still pursuing a career as a professional musician. She was accepted into Temple University’s graduate program to continue her music education, but she realized she wanted to be an American Sign Language teacher.
“My dad told me, ‘You couldn’t have figured this out $100,000 ago?’” Andersen quipped, and the class laughed.
On this new path, Andersen began a master’s program at Western Maryland. A few years later, Andersen was back in New Jersey at Ocean City High School in the special education department where she worked with one deaf student. A board member sought for a proper ASL class, so Andersen established the program there in 2004. In one year, the ASL program jumped from 42 students to 138; the program now has six classes, three levels, and a waitlist.
“What a wonderful opportunity for our students to have the opportunity to meet the Teacher of the Year from NJ, Amy Anderson. She was so outgoing and engaging,” said Margaret Adams, Coordinator of the Office for Students with Disabilities. “The students hung on her every word! It is especially wonderful to have a special education professional honored, and to have our students hear from the field, from the best, how rewarding a career in education can be.”
Following the presentation, Dr. Karen Pezzolla, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, shared that students from three of her education classes told her they now feel inspired and wished that Bloomfield College offered ASL courses.
According to NJEA.org, Andersen will spend a six-month sabbatical working with the New Jersey Department of Education. In addition, ETS supplies the teacher of the year with a laptop. NJEA will provide Andersen with a car lease for the year equipped with EZ Pass, a $500 clothing allowance, media training, communications support, and funding for the trip to Washington, D.C. to meet the President. She also has free access to all NJEA statewide trainings. At the end of the year, NJEA will present Andersen with a ring to commemorate her achievement.
“As I left the Bloomfield College campus, I was truly inspired. The students’ enthusiasm and thoughtful questions really gave me hope for the future. I was filled with warmth when I left the College,” said Andersen. Unfortunately, on her way home, she heard the tragic news about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “My heart ached, tears fell, and frustration that this had happened again were all overwhelming emotions. I am thankful that within that swirl of emotions, the warmth I had experienced earlier in the day from my time at Bloomfield College served as a buffer or a balance to the despair I felt listening to pain of parents, students, and teachers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”
“Bloomfield College Future Teachers, I want to wish you the best. You have chosen a noble profession, a career that will allow you to change lives and influence the future. Allow your students to see your humanity, let your students know they are liked, that they are cared about, and that they are respected. Allow students to feel equity within a classroom free of judgment,” she continued. “You have the honor of spending your life making a difference in the lives of children, the ability to inspire, to build confidence, to show students what they have to say is valuable, and broaden their view of the world. And if at the end of the day, you have ignited a passion by touching the heart of even one child, you have succeeded. Hold tight to your dreams and know your voice has value, your voice is necessary and your voice is heard.”