Theresa Maughan, a high school social studies teacher at the East Orange STEM Academy in the East Orange School District, has been named 2021-2022 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, the New Jersey Department of Education announced Oct. 6.

Maughan got an inkling that she wanted to be an educator in seventh grade, when her social studies teacher, Mrs. Roman, organized a letter-writing campaign to her class’s congressional representative. The effort sought to prevent Maughan from being deported.

That was after Maughan realized she was a “Dreamer” — a child brought to the United States without documentation. She immigrated to the U.S. from Belize with her parents, who remained in the country after their visas expired.

As a result of her teacher’s efforts, Maughan and her family went through the naturalization process and became American citizens. “My teacher ignited our class with the realization that we could take our civics lessons and use them in real-life situations,” Maughan said.

A few years later, Maughan became “teacher for the day” when her social studies class reenacted the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.

“I was hooked,” she said. “Even though I had considered a career as an immigration lawyer to help people experiencing what I went through in the seventh grade, I knew that a career in teaching would provide me with the best opportunity to fulfill my commitment to work for change.”

“An extraordinary teacher is a lifelong learner who seeks creative ways to engage students and help them overcome obstacles. These qualities are exemplified by Theresa Maughan — this year’s New Jersey State Teacher of the Year,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Vincent L. Stallings, principal of the East Orange STEM Academy, praised Maughan as someone who always puts students “at the center of her lessons.” He added, “Mrs. Maughan is a respected leader amongst her peers and district colleagues; her level of professionalism is unmatched.”

That commitment to challenging students to reach beyond the walls of the classroom for new learning opportunities includes chaperoning a group of science, technology, engineering and mathematics students to the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. She also paved the way for students to participate in the Hamilton Education Program, where they created performance pieces, including songs, raps and a monologue about the founding era.

Her students have won numerous honors, including Black History Month essay contests sponsored by the New Jersey Bar Association and the New Jersey Department of State Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Commission essay contest; they also were finalists in the National History Day competition.

“I am honored to recognize Theresa Maughan for her commitment to her students and dedication to the teaching profession,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education. “The Department of Education looks forward to working with Theresa as we strive to continually enhance education throughout the state.”

“Now is the time to celebrate outstanding teachers more than any other period in our recent history. Throughout the challenges posed by this global pandemic, educators have truly risen to the challenge and demonstrated their dedication to the students they serve,” said Kathy Goldenberg, president of the New Jersey State Board of Education. “Theresa Maughan exemplifies this level of professionalism and dedication.”

Maughan’s superintendent also praised the educator. “This serves as one more example of the East Orange School District being recognized for what it is, home to some of the best teachers and students in a state known for having the best teachers and students in the nation,” said AbdulSaleem Hasan, superintendent of the East Orange School District. “In the midst of a global pandemic and the challenges inherent in virtual learning, she was able to adapt and overcome and ensure her students received a world-class education.”

Maughan earned a bachelor’s degree in education and history from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in administration and supervision from New Jersey City University. She is working toward a second master’s degree in American history from Pace University in New York City. Thirty-four of her forty years in education have been as a teacher serving the students in the East Orange School District.

In her role as State Teacher of the Year, Maughan will work with the New Jersey Department of Education and give presentations to colleagues and stakeholders around the state, speak with aspiring teachers and visit classrooms to promote diversity in the teacher workforce and continual educational improvement. She will also participate in national conferences with other state teachers of the year.

Maughan was one of four finalists for New Jersey State Teacher of the Year who received the highest scores on their applications and interviews with a panel of representatives from the state’s education associations and other stakeholder groups. The other three finalists were: Lynne Bussott, a second-grade teacher at the Governor Charles C. Stratton School, Swedesboro-Woolwich School District, Gloucester County; Alyssa Geary, a special education and English language arts educator at the Red Bank Middle School, Red Bank Borough School District, Monmouth County; and Faith Roncoroni, an English teacher at the Phillipsburg High School, Phillipsburg School District, Warren County. Additional information can be found on the Governor’s Educator of the Year webpage.