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Webb Weekly Interviews: Pennsylvania’s “Teacher of the Year”

Mrs. Jennifer Wahl, a social studies and psychology teacher at Loyalsock Township, recently earned the prestigious honor of Pennsylvania’s “Teacher of the Year.” Webb Weekly interviewed Mrs. Wahl to gain her thoughts and perspective about attaining this high recognition. How do you feel about gaining this honor? “I feel incredibly honored to have been chosen

Mrs. Jennifer Wahl, a social studies and psychology teacher at Loyalsock Township, recently earned the prestigious honor of Pennsylvania’s “Teacher of the Year.” Webb Weekly interviewed Mrs. Wahl to gain her thoughts and perspective about attaining this high recognition.

How do you feel about gaining this honor?

“I feel incredibly honored to have been chosen for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year for 2018. I am so thankful for the opportunities that will come. I must say that I could not possibly do any of the work I do at Loyalsock without the support of my incredible colleagues. They push me to be my best, and I hope I do the same for them.”
What was the process in which you were nominated and how was it voted upon?

“In December of 2016, Dr. Matthew Reitz, my principal nominated me. I filled out a fairly extensive application. I received email notification sometime in early spring that I made it to the semi-finalist round. For the semi-finals, I had to complete a phone interview, which I felt was a strong point for me. I am extremely small in stature, but I have a loud and commanding voice. I do well with unexpected questions, so I felt really happy and confident about the phone interview round. To be honest, however, I was surprised to get the email in April that notified me about being a finalist. I knew there was stiff competition involved. For the finalist round, I made a three part video. The video entailed an introduction to the school, school district and myself, a lesson plan with a brief introduction to the lesson, and a message to pre-service teachers. It is my understanding that the National and State Teacher of the Year – Pennsylvania chapter has a committee that votes and picks finalists (I am not sure how many) to send to the Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is my understanding that the Secretary of Education, Secretary Rivera, makes the final decision.”
What is the reaction of your fellow teachers and the administrators at Loyalsock?

“I was lucky enough to have three of my colleagues, two of which are Teacher of the Year finalists from 2012 and 2004 with me at the conference. I was also joined by my principal, Dr. Matthew Reitz, middle school principal, Dr. Chad Greevy, my superintendent, Mr. Gerald McLaughlin, the director of special education, Mrs. Chris Herman, and my student presenter, Miss Tawseefah Fields. They were all incredibly supportive and wonderful. Like I said, I could not do a single thing I do at work without the help of my colleagues, many of whom are my dear friends.”
Is there a particular type of approach to your teaching and do you have a specific philosophy for teaching?

“When I discuss my own instruction, I will say that I like change and I like repetition. So do adolescents. Teenage students need something new and exciting to look forward to, and they need repetition and routine to keep their day and lives with some regularity and predictability. Teaching becomes more valuable when it has great relevance and meaning. It is also relevant when students can find a relationship to the content or story within the content. I have gathered plenty of real-life stories relating to world culture and psychology throughout my extensive travels. I also believe that my subject area lends itself nicely to student interest. After all, history is about the human story and psychology is about the human mind. Most students find a way to relate to the content, even when the story is not the most invigorating.”
Are there particular historical figures or events that you try to make students appreciate better?

“I try to have students understand that people are not so incredibly different from each other around the world. We are all human, and while we have some obscure histories, we have similar stories as the human story progresses. I think finding commonalities across history is important for students in understanding other people who may be culturally different from themselves.”
What is your educational and teaching background, how long have you been at Loyalsock?

“I have a bachelor’s degree from Cabrini University in history. I also did all my teacher training through Cabrini and graduated in 3 1/2 years. In 2006, I was hired at Loyalsock after moving to Williamsport, from the Philadelphia area. I started a master’s degree in educational leadership with a concentration in international and comparative education at Penn State University in 2009. Along the way I decided that administration was not the route I preferred, so I did not pursue a principal certification. I truly prefer the classroom. Facilitating education with my students is my passion over administrative duties. I graduated in May of 2012 from Penn State, University Park. This degree has opened other doors for me, and I have also been teaching at the Pennsylvania College of Technology since 2015. I currently teach psychology and sociology at Penn College. I have been at Loyalsock High School for 11 1/2 years. This is my 12th year of teaching.”

What do you think is the future of you in education and will winning this honor enhance your possibility of meeting it.

“I think the future of education must focus on preparing students for college and/or careers. I hope this honor allows me an opportunity to help learn how to bridge the gap and work directly in ways to help make that more of a possibility for schools and students. I work in both secondary education and higher education. I see gaps on a regular basis, and I hope to work in ways that will help facilitate connections rather than detachment. That is simply an ambition for now. I do not know what the future will hold exactly.”

Dr. Matthew Reitz, who as principal at Loyalsock Township High School is Mrs. Wahl’s boss, said this about her, “As a school, we are super proud of her accomplishment and to have successfully made it through a rigorous application process. She has done all the work and deserves this recognition as educators from across the State evaluated her application, teaching ability via the video she produced, and resume that contains the experiences she has to date in the field of education. We couldn’t be more elated!”

Reitz pointed out that in addition to Wahl, Loyalsock has had two other Teacher of the Year finalists, Mrs. Carol Johnson, a mathematics teacher in 2004 and in 2012, Mrs. Kindra Brelsford, a science teacher. These three outstanding educators are part of a proud tradition of teaching excellence in the Loyalsock School District.

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