MANAHAWKIN – William Smith has only been teaching for five years in the Southern Regional School District, but he has definitely made his mark in that time. Smith was recently named the Teacher of the Year for Ocean County schools.
Smith teaches social studies at Southern Regional Middle School. Beginning back in 2013, he has been working hard each year to develop a strong rapport with his students while creating an engaging and active learning environment in the classroom, tactics which he believes have contributed to his achievement.
“It came as a surprise to win even the school Teacher of the Year,” he said. “I was floored.”
Before being named as Ocean County’s Teacher of the Year, Smith won the title for Southern Regional Middle School. Each school in the county receives its own individual teacher of the year, he explained. It is those winners that can then be nominated for the county title by peers or administrators.
Although Smith is not sure who nominated him for such a title, he noted it was “a super humbling experience” to win. He was even surprised by Southern Regional administrators and county officials at his classroom to deliver the news.
“It goes without saying how proud we are that William has been identified as the Ocean County Teacher of the Year and is now one of six finalists for the prestigious New Jersey State Teacher of the Year,” said Superintendent Craig Henry.
The 21 county winners can then go on to apply for New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year, part of the Governor’s Educator of the Year Program. This will be narrowed down to six finalists who appear to interview before a panel of judges.
“This updated program highlights educational innovation, student achievement, the rewards of teaching, and important services outside the classroom environment that lead to student success. Further, it seeks to attract public attention to the positive aspects of our educational system,” according to the NJ Department of Education.
To apply for this, Smith had to film a 10 minute video of his lessons in action in the classroom, which was done back in June. He noted that his students “knocked it out of the park.”
Smith’s love for teaching and his strong student/teacher relationships are what encourage him to work hard and what he believes make him worthy of this achievement.
“It’s my passion; I absolutely love what I do…and what I teach,” he said.
He works specifically on fostering a learning style that focuses on engagement in the classroom. Rather than distributing packets and worksheets to students, he comes up with interesting and participatory lessons for his students to be a part of, noting that this helps students to enjoy the subject matter more.
For example, he recently set up a mock press conference for his students to put on during class, which produced great results. He also noted that he tries to incorporate “hard-hitting topics” to get his students more involved, especially in today’s political climate.
He defined his keys to success as a teacher as: providing intellectual freedom to his students and encouraging creative risks.
While he is happy to have been named Teacher of the Year, Smith plans on continuously evolving and improving his teaching.
“While it’s really great I got this award, I will never be complacent,” he said.
Smith does plan to go ahead with the application process to become New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year, noting that it would be “a crazy, awesome thing to win.”
“Although we are immensely proud, we are by no means surprised,” said Henry. “[He] has been a shining and now shooting star from the first day he arrived on campus. His student centered approach coupled to his passion for social studies and his commitment to life-long learning is the basis for this well-deserved recognition.”