Beyond the walls of Woodland

0
12

State honor affords Hatch-Geary opportunity to have broader impact on education

Woodland Regional High School English teacher Meghan Hatch-Geary walks in the gymnasium with Gov. Ned Lamont, left, and local and state officials before a ceremony honoring her as Connecticut 2020 Teacher of the Year Nov. 1 at the school in Beacon Falls. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — Since being named Connecticut Teacher of the Year in November, Meghan Hatch-Geary’s life has changed both personally and professionally.

Hatch-Geary, an English teacher at Woodland Regional High School, said she now holds herself to a higher standard because she’s representing Connecticut’s teachers.

On a professional level, Hatch-Geary, 41, of Hamden, is working to help initiate change throughout the state.

Although Hatch-Geary was officially acknowledged as Connecticut Teacher of the Year in November, she knew well before a ceremony to honor her that she had won the award. Hatch-Geary and her family had to keep it a secret, but that did not stop her from immediately starting her work as a public figure.

“In that time period, I have had to work with a lot of people and talk to a lot of people, so my eyes have been opened to the variety of issues and challenges that students and teachers and school administrators face,” Hatch-Geary said.

Hatch-Geary sees a lack of diversity among the challenges facing education in the state. She believes the state’s diverse population isn’t represented in jobs such as teaching.

According to data from the state Department of Education, about 90% of teachers in the state were white in the 2018-19 school year, while the student population is much more diverse.

This year, the state legislature passed two pieces legislation designed to increase diversity in the classroom. One is intended to increase the number of teachers of color and retain them.

The other legislation mandates schools statewide offer African-American, Latino and Puerto Rican-focused courses. The law in its final form called for the state Board of Education to approve a model curriculum developed by the State Educational Resource Center for districts to follow by January 2021.

The law requires districts have courses ready to be offered by the 2022-23 school year but allows them to begin offering it the year before that. The course will not be required for graduation.

As part of her duties as the state’s teacher of the year, Hatch-Geary is working with a state committee to develop curriculum for an African-American and Latino studies course. The committee frequently meets in Hartford to work on the curriculum.

It’s a subject area that Hatch-Geary is very familiar with.

Hatch-Geary earned a degree in black and Latino studies with a minor in English literature from Hunter College. She lived abroad in Africa and South America, where she taught and worked on conservation efforts, before returning home to pursue a teaching career.

Hatch-Geary feels making African-American, Latino and Puerto Rican-focused courses available to high school students will help students discover a new insight into minorities and inspire minority students.

“It’s a number of hours and a number of meetings over the coming year in order to have this ready to bring to schools next school year. So it’s a huge undertaking, but it is absolutely something that I am passionate about and I think it’s really necessary and important,” Hatch-Geary said.

Hatch-Geary also wants to be an advocate for teaching and promote the profession among youth to pursue as a career.

“I do believe that it is the most powerful profession in the world and it could be one of the most rewarding,” she said. “I would love to see some of our talented, smart, intelligent, compassionate, young people pursue that field, so I’m going to do my best to work on that issue, as well.”

Looking ahead, Hatch-Geary has already submitted her portfolio and resume for the National Teacher of the Year contest. She will meet the 56 other candidates in February. The National Teacher of the Year winner will be announced in Washington in May.

Along with her many duties as the state’s teacher of the year, Hatch-Geary still manages to balance her English classes and extracurricular roles at Woodland, along with her family life.

“I think everyone recognizes that this is an important and very unique opportunity for me and for the region to positively influence public education beyond Woodland’s walls,” Hatch-Geary said.