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Northeast’s Coyne Among County Teacher-Of-The-Year Semifinalists

Judy Tacyn
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January 23, 2018

“I wish I could pinpoint some pivotal moment, an ‘ah-ha’ experience, that made me what to teach, but truly, from as long ago as I can remember, all I wanted to do was teach,” said Northeast High School English teacher Jessica Coyne, one of 10 semifinalists for 2018 Anne Arundel County Teacher of the Year.

“My poor parents! I wanted chalkboards and filmstrip projectors, extra dittos and a podium for birthday presents, not the traditional gifts for young girls,” she added. “It’s ironic that I have none of those things in my classroom.”

Coyne started her teaching career as a substitute at Annapolis High School in 1995 after a friend of her father (an elementary school principal in the county at the time) convinced her to give teaching a try. After moving briefly to Chicago, where she was teaching, she came to Northeast when her husband’s company transferred the family back to Maryland.

She contacted a family friend, Ken Lawson, in October 2003 to inquire about long-term sub positions.

“The county had three openings for full-time positions: Annapolis, Old Mill and Northeast,” said Coyne. “I chose Northeast because it was small, the faculty and students were so very welcoming when I visited, and Mr. [George] Kispert, the principal, made me feel like I was saving the day by coming to NHS. Who wouldn’t want to feel so special?”

One of the attractions of Northeast was family. “Pasadena is a small, tight-knit community. I love knowing that I have worked with entire extended families,” said Coyne. “The personal connection, and how I truly feel like family as well, makes this a perfect place.”

While the Teacher of the Year selection process is rigorous and comprehensive, Coyne said, “I have been able to really take a deep look at my own philosophies of teaching and evaluate how they have evolved over my years in the classroom. It is amazing how much my own philosophy and methods have evolved with experience in various settings, as well as by having a child myself.”

Coyne draws passion for teaching from her fascination in the growth and development of students through their experiences in not only her classroom but their whole education, including sports, activities, jobs, volunteer opportunities and family life.

She has two guiding principles in her teaching: “Just breathe” and “It’s OK to fail.” Those phrases are repeated constantly in her classroom.

“It is important that my students know that learning is tough; it will stretch their brains and make them uncomfortable,” she said. “If I am doing my job, they will feel a little stress, learn how to manage, persevere and succeed. Never giving up, that is so important. Take a break, sure, but don’t stop. My kids know this.”

Northeast High School Principal Jason Williams has noticed those mantras, and he has observed Coyne practice them herself.

“Mrs. Coyne is an outstanding teacher who never gives up on her students or allows them to fall short of their potential,” said Williams. “She takes the time to get to know her students, and they know she cares about them and their futures. Mrs. Coyne always brings buckets of positive energy in her role as a teacher-leader in raising the achievement of all our students.”

The respect is mutual.

“NHS has some of the most dedicated faculty members with whom I have ever worked,” said Coyne. “Just look at how long people stay here, and the former NHS students we have who come back to teach here, too.”

As for the Teacher of the Year recognition, “I actually do not care for the attention at all, for truly as any teacher can attest, I am only as good as my colleagues, my administrative team, students and parents,” said Coyne. “If any part of the equation is out of balance, then success is that much more difficult.”

The Teacher of the Year semifinalists will be among 40 public school and eight independent school educators to be honored at the 32nd annual Excellence in Education banquet at the BWI Marriott in Linthicum on April 25. The event is sponsored by AACPS and the Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.

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