Imagine entering a classroom where students are excitedly debating the philosophical distinction between a “need” and a “want,” offering their own perspectives and building on each other’s ideas. Now, imagine these students are just five years old. Such an environment exists in kindergarten teacher Ellen Cahill’s classroom at the Bradford School in Montclair, New Jersey.
For her ability in using the humanities to engage students, Cahill—who earned a Master in Education with a concentration in Philosophy for Children from Montclair State University—has been named the 2011 Teacher of the Year by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities (NJCH). “Ellen Cahill demonstrates what’s possible in early childhood education,” says Mary Rizzo, NJCH interim executive director. “She takes our youngest students and introduces them to complex ideas in a way that sparks their passion for learning and gets them thinking creatively.”
In naming her Teacher of the Year, the awards committee was particularly impressed by the way in which Cahill brings her philosophy of learning into the classroom to make education come alive through active student participation and a focus on critical thinking. Cahill’s passion for teaching inspires students to see the world in new ways. In the words of Naomi Kirkman, principal of Bradford School, “Ellen Cahill’s ability to connect with all of her students and the sheer joy of her classroom are captivating to witness, and these qualities inspire me.” The impact Cahill has on her students is measurable and lasting. Parents also note Cahill’s ability to model a love of learning through creative teaching techniques and her consistent, evident focus on the needs of each child. It is through these practices that Cahill has taught children to be engaged learners and to be members of a supportive, nurturing community.
The Teacher of the Year award is bestowed annually on an elementary, middle school, or high school teacher who understands the complexity, value, and richness of the humanities, including such subjects as history, literature, comparative religion, world cultures, and ethics, and whose approach to humanities education is interdisciplinary and creative.
The New Jersey Council for the Humanities is a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Its mission is to serve the people of New Jersey by developing, supporting, and promoting projects that explore and interpret the human experience, foster cross-cultural understanding, and engage people in dialogue about matters of individual choice and public responsibility.
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