Top of the class

Shue-Medill in­struc­tor named Christina’s teacher of the year

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

Like any good teacher, Casey Mon­tigney keeps on top of her sixth-grade stu­dents to make sure they get their writ­ing as­sign­ments done on time.

And, in a unique twist, her stu­dents re­turn the fa­vor.

“When they’re writ­ing, I’m writ­ing,” Mon­tigney said. “I tell them to keep me ac­count­able. By the time I’m 30, I’ll fin­ish my book.”

Mon­tigney, 26, is in her fifth year teach­ing at ShueMedill Mid­dle School. Last month, she was named Christina School Dis­trict’s teacher of the year and will go on to com­pete to be the state’s top teacher in the fall.

A na­tive of Free­hold, N.J., Mon­tigney al­ways loved to read and write.

“I was the kid with a book up to my face all of the time,” she said. “My mom had to take them from me to eat din­ner.”

She en­rolled at the Univer­sity of Delaware as an English ma­jor but af­ter fig­ur­ing out that find­ing a sus­tain­able ca­reer with just an English de­gree could be dif­fi­cult, she de­cided to try tak­ing a few ed­u­ca­tion classes.

“I re­al­ized I loved it,” she said, adding that her mother and aunt are also teach­ers.

She planned to teach high school but the only job she could find af­ter col­lege was a mid­dle school po­si­tion at Shue-Medill.

“I tried it out, and now I don’t think I’ll do any­thing else,” she said.

Mon­tigney said she likes the en­thu­si­asm and en­ergy that mid­dle school kids have.

“It’s fun teach­ing when they love com­ing to school this much,” she said. “Even the ones that don’t are still look­ing at you like, ‘Should I love it?’ I like grab­bing those kids.”

She teaches sev­eral classes of English lan­guage arts, in­clud­ing stu­dents in the ad­vanced-level Cam­bridge Pro­gram, and also runs a tech­nol­ogy class she de­signed af­ter ob­tain­ing a mas­ter’s de­gree in ap­plied ed­u­ca­tional tech­nol­ogy. The course teaches “dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship,” in­clud­ing how to stay safe and act pro­fes­sion­ally on the in­ter­net.

“I said to my prin­ci­pal, ‘I think we re­ally need this,” Mon­tigney said. “Kids have been handed all this tech­nol­ogy but don’t know how to use it and don’t know about their dig­i­tal foot­print.”

Her fa­vorite sub­ject to teach, how­ever, is writ­ing.

“Writ­ing is the most im­por­tant skill I can leave them with,” she said. “If you can com­mu­ni­cate what you’re try­ing to say, it to- tally changes how you ap­proach things.”

Mon­tigney, who lives in Townsend with her hus­band, is mulling sev­eral ideas for her own book, pos­si­bly in the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion genre.

Mon­tigney’s ded­i­ca­tion to the school ex­tends be­yond just her own class­room.

Three years ago, Mon­tigney joined other ShueMedill teach­ers in par­tic­i­pat- ing in a school im­prove­ment project spon­sored by the Carnegie Foun­da­tion. The team brain­stormed in­no­va­tive ideas to solve prob­lems at the school and tested them out in class­rooms. Those that worked were rolled out to the en­tire school.

Mon­tigney cited the suc­cess of a new policy to al­low stu­dents to re­take tests they per­formed poorly on the first time.

“It places value on learn­ing, not ‘ did you get the grade on the day I wanted you to get the grade,’” she said.

Mon­tigney also re­placed the chairs in her class­room with yoga balls af­ter read­ing re­search that sug­gested they help stu­dents fo­cus by chan­nel­ing ex­cess en­ergy into balancing on the balls.

In ad­di­tion to her work on the school im­prove­ment project, Mon­tigney has also served as an ad­vi­sor to the year­book, news­pa­per and drama clubs, par­tic­i­pates in the school’s men­tor­ing pro­gram, serves on the an­tibul­ly­ing com­mit­tee and is work­ing on cre­at­ing a sup­port group for LGBT stu­dents.

She be­lieves there’s al­ways a new skill to learn or a new pro­gram to try out.

“I want to al­ways be an ed­u­ca­tor who wants to grow,” she said. “If I ever get to the point where I don’t want to learn, I shouldn’t con­tinue teach­ing.”

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

Casey Mon­tigney, the Christina School Dis­trict’s teacher of the year, talks to her sixth-grade class at Shue-Medill Mid­dle School about writ­ing mem­oirs.

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