Mary Jo Hutchinson Named Burlington County Teacher of the Year
By Kala Burke
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Mary Jo Hutchinson, a Penn State College of Education Alumna from the class of 2001, has been honored as the Burlington County Teacher of the Year and will now compete for the title of New Jersey’s top teacher. Hutchinson says the experience has been a “wonderful honor, but certainly surreal.“
As County Teacher of the Year, Hutchinson is one of twenty-one teachers being considered for the award at the state level. “There are so many wonderful teachers, so it's an honor as well as a responsibility to be representing my district and my county,” says Hutchinson. “I look at it as an opportunity to have an even broader impact on education and student achievement.”
Hutchinson, a fourth grade teacher in the Delran school district, says her classroom is very different from traditional classrooms. Her classroom is a very technology-enriched environment containing six laptops, wireless connectivity, a projector, a Promethean ActivBoard, and a learner response system.
“Finding meaningful ways to integrate this technology into the teaching-learning process definitely sets my classroom apart from the classrooms of our childhood,” she continues. “Technology is not the end itself; rather it's a 21st century tool that is used to enhance my students' learning and immerse them in real-world problem solving situations.”
Hutchinson believes technology is the perfect tool to reach through to students. She also anticipates that using technology in the teaching-learning process will help students develop critical thinking and reasoning skills.
“My students love working with technology. It is extremely fun as well as motivating for them, which leads to higher levels of student engagement. At 9 or 10 years old, my students have never known a world without technology. They were born in 1999 and 2000, so personal computers were fairly common by then,” she says. “Technology is just a normal part of life to them. They are 'digital natives,' so using technology in the classroom makes sense.”
Hutchinson’s enthusiasm for technology in the classroom began during her time at Penn State. “I first got involved with technology during a year-long PDS internship partnership with the State College Area School District. We were required to create a web-based portfolio and integrate technology into projects in our classrooms,” she says.
“I feel I learned a mindset for teaching while I was in the PDS internship, and that mindset has shaped my views and my classroom instruction,” says Hutchinson. “I learned to value collaboration among teachers, to be a reflective practitioner and a life-long learner, and to center my classroom and my instruction on my students.”
Hutchinson views herself as a facilitator of student learning. She takes the time to get to know her students, and then designs activities to help them reach higher levels of conceptual understanding. In this way, teaching and learning become personalized for each student, allowing Hutchinson to reach the needs of all her students.
“I want my students to become the referees of their own knowledge, instead of just looking to the teacher as the only one who possesses the ‘right’ answer,” she says. “I want my students to think critically, analyze information, and make their own decisions and judgments.”
Hutchinson’s contributions go far beyond her own classroom, however, through her collaboration with her colleagues. Hutchinson has assisted many fellow teachers with the integration of technology into their own classrooms, as well as the implementation of the 4th grade mathematics curriculum, which she wrote as part of the district’s Mathematics Curriculum Committee, where she has served since 2002.
Hutchinson’s greatest strength as a teacher is her enthusiasm for learning. “I am always learning,” says Hutchinson. “I’m constantly reading about my field, searching for the best newly-researched practices, and implementing them into my classroom. I am open to new ideas.”
The New Jersey Teacher of the Year Award is scheduled to be announced in October.