By Allie Ward
Going from the fast-paced world of advertising in Manhattan to a first grade classroom at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Lawrence Township, N.J., may seem like a bit of a stretch, but for State Teacher of the Year and Rider alumna Jeanne Muzi, it was more about finding her passion.
“After a long time looking and thinking about making a change, my oldest son was entering kindergarten and I started getting involved at the school, volunteering and helping in the classroom,” Muzi said. “Over the four years he was at the elementary school, I got to be there a lot and participate.”
Muzi chose to go back to school to pursue her interest in teaching and decided on Rider’s Graduate Level Teacher Certification Program in 2002.
“[Rider’s program] really prepared me,” she said. “What was great about Rider were the opportunities to work with other student teachers, but also seasoned veterans.”
According to Muzi, the program was “phenomenal” and helped her develop an involved approach to teaching.
“I am one of those extremely hands-on kind of teachers,” she said. “Everything is about the thinking and the creativity, and I’m lucky because I teach first grade, so there is a lot of opportunity for that.”
Muzi was “shockingly stunned” to find out she had been named the state’s Teacher of the Year over 20 other teachers from each county in New Jersey. She is on a half-year sabbatical while she continues to the national level.
“It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” she said. “While it’s wonderful to have time to meet other teachers and a great opportunity to travel, I have to leave the classroom.”
Muzi is taking full advantage of her sabbatical by speaking to student teachers and education students about her experiences. She came back to Rider on Feb. 24 to give pointers to those entering the teaching field.
Senior Alison Toohey, president of Kappa Delta Pi, Rider’s chapter of the national education honor society, said Muzi is a great example for students to get a feel for the “real world of teaching.”
“It’s difficult to teach someone to be a teacher,” Toohey said. “[Muzi can] provide us with advice about what good teaching is and hopefully prevent us from making some common mistakes in our first year.”
At the talk, Muzi recounted how, during her first year as a teacher, she worked with the kids to make a list of classroom rules. As they made the list together, she realized it would just keep growing and growing, so she narrowed it down to one rule.
“Be the person that makes a difference,” she said. “Make kindness the rule, and sharing and caring a regular occurance.”
With today’s job market and economy in distress, Muzi said a lot of people seek her out to speak as a “career changer.”
“I’m kind of like a walking commercial,” she said.
Dr. Don Ambrose, acting associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Education and Sciences, believes Muzi’s “strong sense of purpose” was essential in her Teacher of the Year win.
“Jeanne is a highly polished professional,” Ambrose said. “She is an excellent communicator with the ability to inspire both children and adults. If you could create a mold for replication of the ideal educator, you would do well to develop that mold from Jeanne Muzi’s attributes.”