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Kathryn Forsyth, Director
For Immediate Release: October 21, 2009
Spanish Teacher from Northern Highlands Regional High School is 2009-10 New Jersey Teacher of the Year
MaryAnn Woods-Murphy is proud to be a teacher and a citizen of the world. She is a sincere, caring adult figure in the lives of her students who works hard to make her classroom a safe and comfortable place for all.
Commissioner of Education Lucille E. Davy today introduced Woods-Murphy, a Spanish teacher at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, Bergen County, to the State Board of Education as New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year for 2009-10.
“Teachers need to be seen as the social and intellectual leaders that they are,” said Woods-Murphy. “Teachers need to know that they can be proud of what they do and they should be encouraged to share their good news every chance they get.”
“MaryAnn Woods-Murphy represents all of the important qualities of a successful teacher,” Commissioner Davy said. “She is enthusiastic, inspired and sensitive to the learning style of each of her students. She fosters communication and collaboration in her classroom while motivating her students to examine global issues from multiple perspectives. Her focus on international awareness and multiculturalism prepares her students for success in a 21st century global economy.
“She is the kind of teacher you wanted to ‘get’ when you were a student,” the Commissioner said. “I know she will represent excellence among New Jersey’s teachers over the next year with great pride and distinction.”
Woods-Murphy, a career educator, has taught Spanish at Northern Highlands Regional High School since 2003. Prior to that, she taught Spanish and was the world languages coordinator for the Bergen Academies in Hackensack. She began her career as academic coordinator for the Bergen Language Institute in 1984 and taught Spanish at the middle school and high school levels in New York before coming to the Bergen Academies.
For Woods-Murphy, becoming a Spanish teacher was not the fulfillment of a childhood dream. “Life takes strange turns. When I finished college, I got married and went to live in Spain for four years,” she said. In the beginning, I knew no Spanish at all, but my Irish-American husband and I had made a solemn pact to speak no English for our first year of marriage. My intense need to communicate quickly led me to fluency in Spanish.”
Her experience in Spain led her to pursue a career in teaching upon her return to the United States. It also convinced her that anyone could learn a language if given the chance. She attributes her success to simulating “a real communicative environment in my classroom where students would feel safe to take risks and share their fledgling ideas in a new language. Soon, I saw that I was able to accomplish this by figuring out what each student would need, by adapting my personality and learning style to better suit theirs and to care. By really caring about my students’ ability to speak, I have been able to help them find their words.”
Lessons don’t stop at Woods-Murphy’s classroom door. The teacher gets her students involved in what she calls “community-building” activities. Most notable among them is Teens Talk About Racism, a yearly conference for Bergen County youth. She started the award-winning conference in 1999.
In addition to the conference, Woods-Murphy was able to organize a successful Martin Luther King Day of Service at Northern Highlands Regional. More than 80 students from the school went to homeless shelters and schools to offer their services. “I worked with the homeless who were at a day shelter near the Port Authority. We sorted donated clothing into the appropriate piles, served food and provided fellowship to the men and women who found themselves in this desperate situation.”
She takes her message of community involvement outside the school by speaking publicly, publishing articles and running workshops on language learning, antiracism and volunteerism. She has been the guest speaker at area high schools for diversity weeks and honor society inductions and has volunteered to serve on panels for these functions.
She recently became involved in her school’s Global Awareness Strategic Planning Team and serves as its co-chair. The involvement gives her the opportunity to use her talent and experience in schoolwide efforts to increase their global awareness and thereby better prepare students for life and work in the 21st century.
Over the years, MaryAnn has arranged 26 trips abroad for students and colleagues. She believes that global experience can significantly increase language and cross-cultural skills.
A stimulating, safe, and caring classroom environment is central to Woods-Murphy’s approach to teaching. “We must help each student feel encouraged to learn. I do this in my classroom because I have seen that students will believe in themselves when we show that we do.”
Woods-Murphy’s classes keep journals, and each class begins with students being asked to write in Spanish on the “theme of the day.” By reading their journal entries, she learns as much about her students as people as she does about their knowledge of the language.
“We establish trust as I respond to the journals,” she said. “I get to know about the students’ lives outside the classroom, and my students learn to use the Spanish the way we learn our first language, and their confidence builds.”
Showing specific interest in individual students also makes school a safer place to be, Woods-Murphy says. “If each student is important to one or more people in the school, I believe that they will be far less alienated and far less likely to hurt themselves or others,” she said.
“MaryAnn Woods Murphy is a master teacher and a natural leader,” says John J. Keenan, her principal at Northern Highlands Regional. “As a classroom teacher, she is always well-prepared. Few can balance excitement and learning as well as MaryAnn.”
“Clearly, MaryAnn is an individual with a terrific work ethic who seeks to improve everything with which she comes in contact,” says Dr. Robert M. McGuire, superintendent of schools at Northern Highlands Regional. “In my forty-plus years in education, I’ve met no teacher more deserving of such an honor.”
Woods-Murphy holds a degree in philosophy from Montclair State College and a masters degree in Spanish Literature, also from Montclair State. She earned a diploma from La Universidad de Salamanca in Spain and has taken coursework at the College of New Rochelle, Staten Island College, Brooklyn College and Hunter College, and has taken graduate level courses at the City University of New York (CUNY).
She is a member of several professional associations, including the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey and the National Association for Multicultural Education.
Woods-Murphy lives in Teaneck with her husband Joe. They have two children and one grandchild. Her biographical notes indicate that everyone in her immediate family is a teacher, except her son, who is seriously considering it and her five-month-old granddaughter, who “has some time to think about her future career.”
As New Jersey Teacher of the Year, Woods-Murphy will participate in a half-year sabbatical sponsored by Educational Testing Service, from January to June 2010. The New Jersey Education Association will pay for the rental of a car for Woods-Murphy to use as she travels the state to take part in a variety of activities associated with her title. And Keyboard Consultants, Inc. a provider of SMART Technologies Interactive Classroom Solutions for schools in New Jersey, will provide a SMART Board.
Woods-Murphy’s selection automatically enters her into the National Teacher of the Year competition. The Council of Chief State School Officers, sponsor of the national program, will name the nation’s top teacher in April 2010.
New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year program allows many talented teachers to be recognized. The process begins at the local level, where school and district level teachers of the year are chosen. County Teachers of the Year, selected by county level panels of esteemed educators, have their portfolios submitted to Trenton for competition for the State Teacher of the year. There, a 10-member panel representing state level education organizations reviews the portfolios and selects finalists, who are interviewed before the selection is made.