The Signal

Serving the College since 1885

Tuesday February 27th

Four alumni who won county’s New Jersey Teacher of the Year speak on panel

(Photo courtesy of Angela Easton / Contributor)
(Photo courtesy of Angela Easton / Contributor)

By Angela Easton

Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), the international education honor society, and the School of Education co-sponsored an event with four of the College’s alumni who have been voted as best county teacher in New Jersey. On Oct. 27 Christine Girtain, Kristen Dunleavy, Gina DiMaggio, and Leigh Cline came together to give future education graduates advice.

Girtain, who won the N.J. state and Ocean County teacher of the year award, teaches at Toms River High School South and North. 

When Girtain was a student at then Trenton State College, she majored in biology with a concentration in education, and then went on to receive her masters in instruction & curriculum in earth science. With 28 years of teaching experience, Girtain talked about what these years were like, and how the College prepared her. 

Girtain also shared her knowledge on how to make a comforting classroom environment for students.

In the panel, Girtain brought up how important it is to know what is going on in their students' lives and the needs they may have that aren’t being met. There may be things that students aren’t financially able to get like school supplies or specific clothing for school events. 

“I can fix these things, but I need to know about these things,” Girtain said.” I need to know about the kids' lives. Don't just judge somebody because you don't know what they're going through, and I think that resonated a lot with my kids because I have kids that come up and tell me what's going on with their lives.”

Cline, Mercer County teacher of the year, added to the conversation by speaking about the death of her mother at a young age and how that has affected her teaching. 

“Most kids in my school didn’t know what I was going through, and you don't always know what your students are going through,” Cline said. “So, I try to take the avenue of: everybody has some type of baggage, and I need to be their safe place.”

Cline studied early childhood and psychology at the College and received her masters degree in education. The College continues to have a presence in her life as she is a second-grade teacher at Parkway Elementary school in Ewing. 

Katie Berger, a junior majoring in special/elementary education with psychology, serves as Points Chair for KDP. Berger believed the panel was important for the campus community. 

“It can be very easy to be inside one's own head and think everyone else has everything figured out, but that is simply not true,” Berger said. “This panel gave students a safe space to ask those pressing questions and possibly answer questions that others had as well. This field is rough yet rewarding, so it was amazing to see the new and ‘old’ come together and discuss topics and learn from one another. Laughs were shared and bonds were formed — it was a sigh of relief and warm welcome.” 

Attendees responded well to the panel and the tips and tricks shared. 

“I really liked it,” said senior early childhood special education and psychology major Kelsey Pitt. “I thought it was very informative, and I feel like I got a lot of little tips from them because I am student teaching next semester.”


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