Learn more about the 2020-2021 New Jersey County Teachers of the Year:

What is your name & job title?

My name is Kristina Messina. I am the 2020 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year. I teach 5th grade at Mount Pleasant School for Millville Public Schools.

Do you love your job? What do you love about it?

The reason I really enjoy and love my job is that I can collaborate and be social with both my students and colleagues. Sharing ideas as well as learning from one another has been a great joy within my career. Hearing students and their stories has shaped the teacher who I am today. I have found that when you take the time to really connect with the students that the learning just falls into place. I make it my goal to really make sure that students love my classroom as much as I love my job.

Tell me about your students.

The students that come into my class know that they’re getting someone who will listen to them. They also know that respect is given as long as it is shown.

I find the most challenging aspect about each one of my students individually and work to help them be the best they could be. No matter the situation whether it is social emotional, behavioral or academic, I pride myself in the fact that making those connections with them helps me to understand where they are coming from. Once that happens I find ways to really get them to enjoy the classroom experience. If they are not having fun I’m having fun. My goal is to help him to love learning in any form yet technology driven or hands on.

Tell me about a project related to your work that you’re really proud of.

A project that I was involved in this year that really made me a sense of pride was to be a part of the Digital Ambassadors team. The team started at the start of the school year in 2019. The position involved a group of tech savvy teachers who would work alongside the Digital Literacy Specialist to help colleagues and other staff integrate technology within their school. Little did we know that during the pandemic we would really join forces to aid all teachers district-wide with their technology integration. Our group was constantly connected and we would discuss many different issues that would arise and brainstorm the best ways to problem solve. We started different social media groups to reach as many staff and community as a whole. This tremendously allowed our group to share and communicate easier with the masses. What’s really neat is that staff started to share their own tech ideas and things they found with everyone else after they became more comfortable with the home learning process. The support within the staff that was funelled through the ambassador was nothing short of amazing. What better way to meet the needs of students during home learning than to collaborate and support teachers.

What is your connection to your union/local association?

My local MEA keeps us up-to-date on many different things regarding our own branch of the union as well as with the larger and NJEA branch. Through their newsletter I was able to take up the opportunity to apply for the Pride grant. Through the grant I was able to fund three years of a school-wide summer reading program. With a grant I was able to fund books for families to read through the Read with them Foundation as well as provide multiple assemblies to encourage students to read. Without the MEA keeping their members informed and may have never known about the grant and it’s capabilities.

Why did you choose a career in public education?

I chose a career in public education because it was something that I felt the most comfortable with. Growing up I was surrounded by many educators and administrators. Hearing their stories really had an impact and inspired me to become a teacher.

Have you had a teacher or educational support professional who inspired you?

I truly believe that inspiration comes from many different places. Throughout my life and career I have been able to have mentors that really shaped the teacher who I am today. This includes many family members who are educators as well as teachers that I grew up with as a child. Extending further to colleagues that I work with today inspiration comes from all different places.

Some of the most notable areas are those that made an impact on how they interacted with their students or with me. For example, I had a wonderful superintendent who took the time to come to new teachers classrooms. She stayed and participated in the lesson. When she was through she wrote a hand written message with three things that she was impressed with during the lesson. She left that in my box and it’s something that I will never forget.

I have also had the opportunity to have the same principal for my entire teaching career. The way the staff works together is really a testament to how she chooses people that she knows will build a great team. She also really trusts her teachers and will take on their ideas to really make our school, Mount Pleasant Elementary, a great place to be no matter if you are a staff member or a student and parent. Through her leadership it’s really been a great family experience.

Lastly I’ve had many family members who were in the educational field both as educators and as administrators. Hearing their stories over the years really made me interested in education.

If you had to describe public education in one word, what would that be?

There is a great resilience in public education. Teachers are flexible and continuously find ways in the oddest situations to help their students succeed. This job really requires people to change and adapt to their students and their needs. If you keep in mind that the students needs are the goal then you’ll make anything possible for them to succeed. Public School is a place where that happens on a daily basis.

Public education is facing many challenges. One is the impact that COVID-19 has had on how we teach and how students learn. What have you learned about how you, your colleagues, and your students adapted to remote instruction?

When the idea of remote learning was on the table in response to COVID-19 I found myself feeling confident and ready for the challenge. Having my Masters in Instructional Technology I knew it was my time to dive in and get my colleagues ready for a whole new way of teaching and learning. I found myself really enjoying the lightbulbs that were going on for educators who were always reluctant about technology integration. Never did I think our experience would last as long as it did but I am grateful for what I have learned as a teacher, a technology mentor and most importantly as a parent.

The most difficult part of remote learning was being a parent to a toddler while also working with students and teachers virtually. While I always felt as though I did a good job separating home and professional life this was much more than I could handle. What I began to realize was that now that I was home 24/7 I needed to learn a new way of prioritizing my responsibilities. Being a mom had to be first as after the second week of endless aid to fellow colleagues and students my own child had way more screen time than I’d like to admit. It left me feeling guilty as my own child was not getting what she needed to grow and learn. From that point I had to be more flexible with my time being in a new setting. This was not the parent my child was accustomed to and I had to learn to separate because full-time and my parenting time the best way I could.

As a result of George Floyd’s murder, along with other tragedies targeting Black people, more and more people are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. How has this affected you as an educator, and as a person, and how do you see yourself addressing systemic racism through your work as a teacher?

I have always considered myself as a teacher who gets to know her students and forms bonds with them. My classroom is a place where everyone can create goals and find successes regardless of race or ability. In response to the Black Live Matter movement, I have started to evaluate myself as an educator and person.

I can say I’m in a space where I’m learning everyday about how I can positively impact those around me. This is done by reading as well as talking to others about how we can make moves to improve the lives of people around us.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you would like to share?

Interestingly enough, my first public school experience was as student teacher.

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