Jeanne DelColle

Teacher of the Year - New Jersey


You can’t teach them until you reach them.

No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship. That goes for students and teachers. Students are more than just names assigned to seats, they are people and they have a story. Respect is gained when you get to know your students as individuals, and let them get to know you as a person. You must find out how they learn, what their biases are, how their cultural experiences have shaped them and then figure out the same things about yourself. Not everyone learns like you do and you need to learn how to communicate to all of your students. You must reach students where they are and then move forward together.


Everyone acts the way they do for a reason.

Don’t judge, dig! No one wakes up in the morning wanting to have a bad day. Life often puts our students in situations of hardship that we can’t imagine. When students deal with hunger, abuse, homelessness, bullying, learning difficulties or any other myriad of things that happen to them, it often manifests itself in the behaviour of the student. Rather than pass judgement on a student for their outward behavior, try to find out what is causing it in the first place.


Expect to fail, because it is not a matter of if, but when.

You can have the best lesson in the world planned that you prepared for days and sometimes it just sinks like a lead balloon. Things happen in school; it is often organized chaos, and despite your best intentions, sometimes your lesson just doesn’t work. You have three choices. You can force the lesson and have the students confused, and shift the blame to them. You can get frustrated, take it out on the kids or your colleagues and give up. Or you can re-tool, dig into your bag of tricks, ask the kids for help and try it again. Failure is an important part of learning and it is not a matter of if it is going to happen, but when. Just as your students need to feel comfortable enough to fail so they can step outside of their comfort zone and begin to grow, you sometimes have to fail too. It is ok to admit that things didn’t work the way you wanted or that you don’t know the answer. It makes you human and actually gives you a lot of respect in the students’ eyes. No growth occurs without discomfort, yours or theirs.


The day you stop learning is the day you die.

We don’t live life one subject at a time; so don’t teach it that way. The world is connected and the students need to see that you are willing to put yourself out there and find out new information. I find that the more I learn the less I know, and I am not afraid to admit it. Not only do you need to continually learn about the world around you, but get out there and experience it, because life doesn’t happen in textbooks. Your students need to be exposed to learning experiences too so that they know they have choices for the future that extend beyond the boundaries of their neighborhood. Most of all, you need to learn from your students, because they are valuable resources. Learning is a team sport. To know when you don’t know, that is wisdom. To know that you don’t know and not do anything about it is inexcusable.


You must believe that your students can fly.

Learning is a journey of curiosity and discovery; you must invite your students to join you on the adventure. Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and you are going to need a tremendous amount of energy and love to get through the year. Energy, because the days are full of soaring highs and gut wrenching lows that will leave you drained physically, emotionally and intellectually. You are going to need to love your students, and I mean love, not like, because some days they are going to get on your last nerve and expect that you will give up on them. You cannot give up…ever. Students need to know that learning is an adventure, that curiosity is good, and that their own experiences are valuable.  Education is never something that should be done to students, but with them. Great teachers are expert communicators that learn who their students are and where they are on their journey. They inspire students to question and help them to find their voice by exposing them to new information and experience. Great teachers show students choices that they never knew they had. Regardless of what your students want to be when they grow up, the most important thing we can do is instill a love of learning, passion for life, and the unwavering belief that your students are capable of great things. You will often recognize a student’s gifts before they do. Your confidence in your students will propel them.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


The 2012 New Jersey Teacher of the Year Jeanne DelColle has been teaching U.S. and world history for sixteen years. She brings her passion for history and extensive travel experience from across five continents- including archaeological digs in Amman, Jordan and environmental work in Mongolia- into the classroom to make history and culture come alive and connect with the worlds of her students. She was also named 2012 NJ History Teacher of the Year and New Jersey Council for the Humanities Teacher of the Year in 2010. After working on state wide committees on teacher evaluation, educator effectiveness, model curriculum and the common core for the last year, she is currently on loan to the NJ Department of Education where she is working on educator outreach to get the message out and teacher voice in.