NJ legislators become teachers for the day

Published on Monday, January 30, 2012

In response to Hopewell Valley’s Education Association’s (HVEA) Teacher for a Day Challenge, four New Jersey legislators learned firsthand what it’s like to walk a mile in educators’ shoes.

Senator Linda Greenstein (D-14) joined Timberlane Middle School science teacher Mrs. Nancy Greener’s class in dissecting lumps of compost.

“I didn’t put my hands in there, the students dissected the compost,” said Greenstein.  “But Mrs. Greener dove into the dissection with gusto.  Teachers are not like they were in the old days, when I went to school, and they stood at the front of the classroom.”

Greenstein, a lawyer by training, was amazed at just how different the classroom experience has changed over the years.  “Today, teachers are really engaged, and this experiential learning is something the kids will really remember. I was also surprised at how teaching has become so physically demanding.”

Showing lawmakers what teachers do every day was the idea behind NJEA’s Teacher for the Day Challenge, which the HVEA embraced this winter. 

 Teacher for a Day Challenge
Left to right:  Hopewell Elementary teacher Kym Harjes; HVEA President and Hopewell Elementary teacher Heidi Olson;  Central High School teacher Dan Balog; Timberlane Middle School teacher Nancy Greener;  Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-14th District);  State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D- 14th District); HVRSD Superintendent Tom Smith;  Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15th District) ; Hopewell Valley Regional School Board President Lisa Wolff;  Stony Brook Elementary Teacher Janet Cole;  Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15th District.) Gallery Gallery

“Education is in the forefront of many conversations and decisions,” stated HVEA President Heidi Olson, a special education teacher at Hopewell Elementary School. “We believe that for people to make valid decisions that affect our schools, they should have the knowledge and current understanding of the achievements and challenges of today’s classrooms.”

“By inviting decision makers into our classes, we can provide them with that knowledge,” Olson continued.  “We also wanted to remind legislators about all of the wonderful things that happen in our classrooms and of how hard our teachers and students work.”

The event was enthusiastically supported by Hopewell Valley Regional School District Superintendent Thomas A. Smith.

“I support anything that brings together the two worlds of education and government,” said Dr. Smith. “We need each other now more than ever, and Teacher for the Day is a great way to share our experiences and points of view.”

At Stony Brook Elementary School, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, (D-15) led second graders in Janet Cole’s class in a discussion about all of the December holidays that different cultures celebrate. At Central High School, Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson (D-14) taught World History lessons for the day with teachers Jeff Neuman and Dan Balog, while at Hopewell Elementary, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15) worked side by side on mathematics with Kym Harjes’ second grade class.

“It was a great opportunity to see first-hand the teaching that goes into helping students prepare for a global economy,” said Assemblyman Gusciora. “We’re preparing them for a complex world, and teachers are on the front lines of this, demonstrating hard work and dedication.”

“It was a great opportunity to see how bright the children are and how hard the teachers work,” declared Assemblywoman Watson-Coleman. 

Assemblyman Benson said he’ll use his day in the classroom as a reference point when at work in the Legislature.

“This will help us, when working with our fellow legislators, in breaking down any misconceptions they may have about education,” he said.

Olson believed this program was just the beginning of forging new relationships with local legislators and members of the Hopewell Valley community in order to work together to strengthen the district’s schools.

“This was a very exciting and positive event for our members, our students, and the legislators. We are looking forward to hosting a second event this spring and inviting more of our locally elected leaders and community members to participate. Great things happen when people are informed and work together.”

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