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

What is your name & job title?

My name is Michelle Williams, and I teach High School Biology, Ecology, and AP Environmental Science

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

I love my job, because there is nothing better than providing my students with opportunities to experience science so that they can better understand and appreciate it

Tell me about your students.

My students come from varied backgrounds. Salem County is one of the more rural counties of NJ but with small pockets of suburbs/urban areas. So the students have different levels of exposure to the outdoors/environment. I teach students in grades 9-12 and all instructional levels. When they arrive on the first day of class, I assure them that regardless of what their experiences have been, what their abilities in science are or what their future holds, they will learn something in my class that they can apply to real life.

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

Natural Discovery Area, take action project, students applied what they learned in the class to really make change in the environment on campus. Formed committee of stakeholders. Networked with local environmental groups

What is your connection to your union/local association?

I am a member of the Woodstown Pilesgrove Education Association

Why did you choose a career in public education?

I am a product of the NJ public school system and wanted to teach science to all students in a way that is interesting and engaging and inspires them to want to learn more about the natural world.

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

Miss Samano, 3rd grade teacher- social emotional connection with students
Mr Bacille-some of the best learning takes place when you have fun with it
Mr Duffy- respect students for their work ethic not their reputation

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

Evolving- as educators we are constantly reacting and changing the educational process in response to environmental change.

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 resilient we all are, but have learned how much I love and miss the unwritten, unrehearsed parts of my job as an educator. The face to face interaction with students, the teachable moments that are created when everyone has an opportunity to share their experiences…all of the “fun” parts of education are just not the same through the virtual lens/screen.

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?

In the front of my classroom I have three words printed on a banner…respect, responsibility and reflection
AS a science teacher, I always begin the year in my classes addressing the concept of bias. How we all have some form of bias toward ideas, cultures, races, etc. based on our life experiences and the influences of our surroundings. I think the most important thing I can do and we all can do is to constantly reflect on our perceptions, where they stem from and whether or not they are the result of bias. We have to be open to ask questions and have discussions that make us uncomfortable and to really hear what everyone has to say about the way the actions of others make them feel.

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