Teachers of New Jersey: Teena O’Connell, Fine Arts Teacher at Manchester Township High School

When you’re a teacher, you get really close to your kids. They’re with you more than they’re with their own parents. So, when you’re with them for so long, and as an art teacher, it’s so important to me to know who they are as a person. I really pay attention to them, and I’m very lucky I get close to my kids quickly. I always prided myself on these relationships, but then the longer I was in and the more time you spent, then you know, some heavy things would come up.

I had this one specific instance where one of my kids had confided in me that they were just having these horrible thoughts. And we don’t leave them alone when they tell us that until we can get them help. I walked them to the counselor’s office, and the student wanted me to stay with them, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have the credentials needed to stay. There are people on the school counseling team who have the credentials to do suicide risk assessments. They’ll determine if the student needs to go directly to a hospital, or if we call their parents or whatnot. But I wasn’t allowed to stay, and this student was crying at the door.

But that day, I decided I wanted to be able to help these kids more, and I decided to go to Kean to become a student counselor. I ended up going through the Nathan Weiss graduate program because it was a graduate program. I went to Kean Ocean and did the LPC and school counseling program so I could become a guidance counselor. I am also now a therapist. My next goal in the school is to move into the SAC position, as the Student Assistance Counselor. They’re the closest to a counselor in a school. A guidance counselor can do career counseling, handle scheduling, and that kind of thing. I care about what’s going on in your life, why you feel this and that, if they’re going through abuse at home, if they have drug and alcohol problems, if they have eating disorders, or anxiety issues. The SAC is the person who is the liaison at the school between them and the outside resources. They need one adult to trust. It doesn’t matter how many kids I have. They need one adult who loves them enough, and I’m always going to live in a way to be that for them.

Interview by Gregory Andrus 

Portraits of the Jersey Shore 


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