Mary Duffy is West Milford's teacher of the year

| 07 Mar 2012 | 01:00

WEST MILFORD — Mary Duffy, a sixth grade teacher at Marshall Hill Elementary School, has been named “Teacher of the Year” for the West Milford School District.

Duffy, a 19-year teaching veteran, now moves on for the county title. And, while being honored by her peers in the district is gratifying, Duffy finds her most satisfying moments with the students she teaches.

Excited to learn In her 19 years of teaching, Duffy has taught a combination of science, reading/language arts, math and social studies to students in grades four through eight at any given time. Duffy is currently celebrating her 10th year of teaching in the West Milford School District, all at Marshall Hill School. She taught fifth grade for eight years before transferring to the sixth grade two years ago.

“My favorite subject to teach is science,” Duffy said. “I love to watch the students explore, discover, question, analyze and finally understand the world around them. During science, my students are scientists — we work in lab, they wear goggles, they use all sorts of equipment — it’s authentic and real. They learn by doing so they will remember the material for life. Lastly, they are truly excited about learning so they work hard.”

A dream built upon understanding

Duffy learned early on that understanding and patience are important and meaningful to kids. It's something she remembers from her very first day of school.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Duffy recalls not getting that all-important understanding from her first teacher.

“I remember my first day of first grade vividly because I did not speak English. My parents immigrated to the United States from Europe the year I was born," recalled Duffy. "My teacher wasn’t the most patient. She often would yell at me, so I was afraid - I think I was more anxious than afraid - to go to school."

A patient teacher made all the difference to Duffy.

"Then, one day, months later, my teacher was replaced. My new teacher was kind, patient, and helped me learn to speak English, read, write, and do math. From the time I met her, I wanted to be a teacher."

Duffy said playing school became her game of choice with her siblings. She would run home and play every chance she had.

"And of course, I was the teacher. Being a teacher was my dream. Now I am living my dream," Duffy said. "I never deviated from my desire to be a teacher even though my dad wanted me to go into business.”

Duffy went on to study elementary education and English literature, receiving her undergraduate degree from William Paterson University and her master's degree in education from Marygrove College.

Support and love of her family Duffy said her support system is her family. She said her husband tolerates all the books, papers and projects that have consumed their home over the years.

"He’s also very understanding and keeps me grounded," she added.

Her parents have encouraged her to follow her dreams, as have her sisters, who she said have provided her with support and encouragement through challenging times. She called them her "behind-the-scenes helpers" who come into her classroom to help her prepare for a new school year or cut out patterns for various projects throughout the years.

"I know I can call on them at the last minute and in an instant they will be there to help," she said.

Duffy has two children, son Shane, 7, and daughter Kate, 5. Shane was especially thrilled about the award.

“He made me a card that said he was proud of me and even announced it during his Valentine's Day Show at school which touched my heart,” Duffy said.

School pride, teamwork and admiration

Duffy said she admires her past and present colleagues, noting how they have collaborated for the benefit of the students.

“I am extremely blessed to work with incredibly talented and supportive individuals," Duffy said. "We are a team with one main goal — the success of our students. We are constantly collaborating with one another, willingly sharing ideas, strategies and techniques that ultimately benefit the children we serve. Marshall Hill School is an amazing place to work.”

And Marshall Hill School is very proud of their Teacher of the Year winning the district title.

“Marshall Hill School congratulates Mrs. Mary Duffy who has recently been selected as the Teacher of the Year for Marshall Hill School, as well as the West Milford District Teacher of the Year," said Principal Michael J. McCormick on his Principal's page on the school Web site. "Mrs. Duffy will now compete for the Passaic County Teacher of the Year. We will be rooting for her continued success as the selection process continues. Congratulations on a job well done!”

The process to select the Teacher of the Year begins in each school with a nominating committee that recommends candidates based on performance, and then each school community votes to elect their school’s Teacher of the Year. Once the building teachers are selected, those individuals complete applications to compete for the district Teacher of the Year. The winner goes on for the county title, then the state title.

Leading by example Personal and professional goals for the future for Duffy include furthering her own education.

“I love learning," she said. "I love sharing my knowledge with others. So I want to continue studying and learning so that I can lead by example because I am constantly telling my students that we are forever learners.”