NJ Teachers’ Lounge is excited to bring NJ teachers a new monthly series in 2017 that will celebrate the stories of NJ educators: their joys, their struggles, their personal reflections on what it is to be a teacher. To bring you these portraits, we’ve partnered with photojournalist, Gregory Andrus, creator of the social media series, Portraits of the Jersey Shore. We hope that you enjoy portraits of Plymouth Rock Teachers. Enjoy!

“When I was younger, I was the one who never wanted to play. I would always sit out on the sidelines, but then something clicked around 5th grade, and I started enjoying gym and sports more. Now I am a gym teacher here in one of the elementary schools in Toms River. I still remember what it was like to not be into gym, so when I get kids who aren’t into gym, I try to help them see that it’s an opportunity for them to get exercise, and the score of the games we play isn’t even important.

“Elementary students in Toms River only have gym once a week, the least of any town in New Jersey. Most towns have it at least three days a week, some five days a week. I think gym is crucial, especially in winter. All these kids have each day is recess, which they only have for 15 minutes when it is nice out. So these kids are barely getting any type of activity during the week, other than the 40 minutes they see each week with me. The emphasis in schools these days is on testing. I understand that, but kids need to get exercise too. It helps them focus better, it helps burn up excess energy, and it’s just all around healthier for their minds and bodies.”

“Connecting with the students as individuals is important to me. When I went away to college, during my first week there, the college president saw me walking on campus and greeted me by name. It was a small college, but it still meant so much to me. That stuck with me, and I make it a point in this school to learn the kids’ names and get to know them. Before I got married and had kids, I would try to get to all the different after-school sport activities the students were participating in. There were times when I would go back and forth between three different games that were going on all at the same time. It wasn’t so I could watch the games themselves, but so the kids would know I cared about them. I still try to do that as much as I can today.”

“A few months ago one of my former students, who was in 6th grade, passed away suddenly due to an illness. I was able to attend a candlelight vigil for her. When I walked onto the field at the vigil, about 50 former students of mine (who are now in middle school and high school) rushed over to say hi to me. They were smiling because they were happy to see me, but they were still fighting back tears. I’ll never forget that night. I try not to take for granted that between Phys. Ed., health class, and safety patrol, I see these students more than anybody else. It’s crazy, because in my short 11-year career, I’ve had 5 students of mine pass away. It makes it all the more clear to me that it’s really important to make the most of my time with them. You never know what life will bring, so I do what I can to have a positive influence on them.”

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