County’s Top Teacher Inspires Joy Of Reading

October 2, 2017
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Kristina Phelan, a reading instructor at Mahala F. Atchison Elementary School, says she is passionate about teaching and is happy she gets to do what she loves at such a great school. Phelan was recently named 2017-18 Monmouth County Teacher of the Year.

By Rebecca Roth |

Kristina Phelan is one of the first smiling faces students see every morning as they make their way into Mahala F. Atchison Elementary School.

Phelan, a Fair Haven resident, has been named the 2017-18 Monmouth County Teacher of the Year, and as the chattering students walk through the school’s red doors ready to begin their day, she is ready to make a difference in their lives.

Fellow teachers, administrators and parents nominated Phelan for Teacher of the Year recognition. The award, part of the New Jersey Department of Education Governor’s Educator of the Year Program, celebrates educational innovation and student success while recognizing New Jersey’s best teachers. A county panel reviews all Teacher of the Year applications and chooses the winner. Phelan, along with the winners from the 20 other New Jersey counties, is now vying for New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, which will be announced Oct. 4.

Jessica Black, principal of Mahala F. Atchison Elementary, was very happy Phelan was selected. “She is a fabulous teacher. She’s great in the classroom and out,” Black said. “She was nominated by her peers and families, too, so I know that she is well supported by the students and the community.”

Phelan currently teaches reading, phonics, reading comprehension, and other literacy fundamentals to first and second graders, and supports kindergarten classes at the school. In addition to her work with students, she also conducts and attends workshops to continue to improve herself as an educator.

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Phelan has been an avid reader her whole life and has a profound love for books, so teaching reading is truly a job that she loves. “Reading is the foundation of everything and for a lot of people, for a variety of reasons, reading does not come easily, so I get to teach children how to read and it’s really exciting,” she said.

As Monmouth County’s Teacher of the Year, Phelan is excited to work with the winners from the other counties in New Jersey. This coming weekend, Phelan, along with other Teacher of the Year recipients, will work on a project to benefit education in New Jersey on a larger scale. “I look forward to getting to know them and working on our project together,” she said.

Humbled and grateful for her honor, Phelan attributes some of her success to her colleagues. “Any one of these teachers could have been teacher of the year,” she said. “They are really passionate, dedicated teachers. They are very motivating to me, and I’m happy to see each and every one every single day. We are a family.”

Despite being a successful teacher, Phelan initially did not know what career path she wanted to take. After graduating Colgate University with a degree in psychology and French, she worked at a magazine publishing company in New York. “While it was a good job, I didn’t feel like that was my path,” she said.

It was not until after she visited with one of her former professors that it clicked; teaching is who she is. Phelan realized she wanted to make a difference and being a teacher would help her do just that.

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Born and raised in Yonkers, New York, Phelan has now been a teacher for 18 years. She says some of the keys to being a successful reading teacher are building foundational skills in a fun way, incorporating her students’ interests into class and picking the right books for the right students.

“There are certain series that they love,” she said as she picked up her favorite books to share with her students. “Being able to find the right book for the right child at the right time – there’s a lot of magic in that.”

This article was first published in the Sept. 28 – Oct. 5, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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