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

Name and Job Title

Megan Graziano – High School Science Teacher

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

I love so many things about being a teacher. I love being able to share my passion for science with students every day. I love witnessing student “aha” moments during labs, activities, and discussions. I love the personal relationships I form with my students and the opportunity to make a difference in their lives. I love providing students with opportunities to learn from one another and to create positive change within their community. I love the opportunity to constantly learn new things, grow, and improve as an educator through PD, PLCs, graduate courses, and mentorship experiences. Lastly, I love working and collaborating with my amazingly talented colleagues who inspire me everyday.

Tell me about your students.

Currently, I teach 9th grade honors biology, and my students are incredible people! They are curious, excited to participate, and eager to learn. The majority of my students are involved in one or more extracurricular activities, and I am always amazed at their ability to successfully juggle all of their responsibilities! One of the best things about working in Clifton is the incredible amount of diversity in our student population. My students come from a wide variety of socioeconomic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, and this diversity provides my students with unique perspectives that enhance our educational experience. I love having the opportunity to learn about my students’ different cultures and traditions and trying to infuse these concepts into our class discussions, lessons, and activities. Clifton students are welcoming, open-minded, empathetic, and understanding of others, and I am so proud to be a part of this incredible school community.

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

Through participation in the WIPRO Science Educator fellowship, I worked to establish a “horizontal collaborative coaching and learning in science” group at CHS. This group was composed of high school science teachers who selected and infused specific research-based instructional methods into their classrooms, shared videotaped lessons and student work, and met regularly to share meaningful feedback with colleagues. Throughout this process, I received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from participating teachers. They stated that this process helped them improve both their instructional strategies and assessment methods, ultimately making them more effective teachers. This group was so successful, in fact, that the next year I arranged to have each participant from the previous year lead their own HCCLS group allowing even more teachers to benefit from the experience. It was incredibly fulfilling to know that this project benefitted not only my own students, but also the students of every teacher involved in this reflective practice.

What is your connection to your union/local association?

While I am not directly involved with my local association, I am so appreciative of all the hard work my union leaders put in every day. I am hoping that my position as a CTOY will give me and my fellow cohort members the opportunity to work more closely with the NJEA on some projects to help provide the teachers of New Jersey with some helpful resources during this transitional period in education.

Why did you choose a career in public education?

I chose a career in public education because I love science and I love working with people – teaching gives me the opportunity to combine both! I was a biomedical science major at Marist College and was interning at a dental office with plans of applying to dental school. During my internship, I realized that I didn’t enjoy my time in the office nearly as much as I enjoyed my time in the classroom. I loved the energy in a classroom during a lively discussion and working with other students to discover and learn new things. After graduation and a few odd jobs, I earned my certificate of eligibility, was hired as a long-term substitute, and was given a chance to really teach for the first time. I quickly realized that I loved being in the classroom even more as a teacher than I did as a student, and I have never looked back. I consider myself incredibly lucky knowing that I have found a career that I love and that I am truly passionate about.

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

As a first year teacher in the alternate-route program, I had never had any formal training in education. Luckily for me, another teacher in my department, Wendy Sistarenik, took me under her wing and showed me the value of collaboration in teaching. Wendy and I would constantly bounce ideas off of one another, work together to develop assessments, discuss new ways to engage students and various other ways to grow and improve our practice. This professional relationship showed me that teaching works best when educators work together to inspire new ideas and challenge one another to constantly be better.

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

Dynamic

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?

I am amazed at how quickly everyone was able to adapt to distance learning! I have always appreciated the old proverb: “necessity is the mother of invention”, and I think that we saw some incredible examples of this last Spring! Both students and teachers became technological wizards overnight, learning all new platforms for learning and assessing. Everyone was forced to think outside the box and the results were incredible! Teachers using their shower walls as whiteboards, developing unique ways to foster collaboration and discussion when we were all stuck in our homes, and students managing to tackle the challenges of self-motivation and discipline. I was very proud of my students and my colleagues during distance learning, and I believe that it has helped to prepare us for whatever this September is going to bring.

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?

The recent Black Lives Matter movement has shone a bright light on many social injustices faced by the Black community in today’s society. As an educator, this movement has caused me to take a closer look at educational inequalities and the effects they have on our Black students. When analyzing the high school NJSLA assessment data, the problem is clear: In several districts, the Black and African American students consistently have the lowest percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations in both mathematics and language arts. We, as educators, have a responsibility to examine our practice, collect input from Black stakeholders within our communities, attend focused PD workshops, and collaborate to develop solutions in order to help our Black students achieve greater success within the classroom. We have to do more than simply make our students feel welcome and safe, we also need to make sure they are all learning to their full potential. I will continue to listen, learn, and advocate for change in order to ensure a better, more equitable, educational future for ALL my students.

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

As a teacher, one of my greatest experiences has been establishing and running the CHS Heroes and Cool Kids student-mentorship program with my amazing co-advisor, Mirta Lopez. This fantastic statewide program focuses on training groups of high school students to go into sixth-grade classrooms to share personal stories, form meaningful connections, and deliver lessons on important topics such as wellness, bullying, cyber-safety, and substance abuse. The goal of each middle school visit is to encourage young people to make good choices that will lead them towards a positive future. There is no better feeling in the world than watching our high school “heroes” confidently delivering lessons in front of a room full of engaged, captivated sixth-graders.

The impact that this program has had on the students is immeasurable. The high school students say that this program gives them confidence and makes them feel important knowing that they are impacting the sixth grade students. We have several high school students involved in our program who struggle with academics and have not always enjoyed school, but say that they love being a part of this program because it makes them feel valued. The “heroes” make real, meaningful connections with the sixth-grade students as well. Seventeen teams comprised of 4-5 high school students visit 34 sixth-grade classrooms three times a year. During these visits, we have had middle school students reach out to their “heroes” to ask for help with very personal matters such as eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, bullying, and abuse – serious issues they may not have felt comfortable speaking about directly with an adult. Without this program, some of these issues may have never been discovered, and the children may not have received the help they so desperately needed.

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