Kean University alumna Nicole Halkias ’94/M.A. ’98 was recently named Teacher of the Year at Brookside Place School in Cranford. The fifth grade teacher received an anonymous nomination that led to her award, recognizing her for excellence in teaching––her life’s work. With this accolade, Halkias is now in the running for Union County Teacher of the Year and, if selected, New Jersey State Teacher of the Year.
“My heart is for the kids. Being a mom and an educator, my passion is teaching and reaching every single kid,” said Halkias. “For someone to notice that passion, realize what that means for the students and then take the time to nominate me, that is such an honor.”
Halkias describes her teaching style as tough yet kind, and her classroom is a safe environment for students to learn, ask questions and to “have a voice and a choice” in the class. “We laugh and joke together, but my students know the rules and we respect one another,” she said.
Halkias’ passion for teaching young ones emerged from her own love of learning growing up. She recalls when, as a kid, her parents would take away her phone privileges as punishment for this or that, and she would enjoy the quiet time by reading books. Other times, she would come home from school and teach her little brother all that she had learned that day.
“Teaching has always been a passion,” Halkias said. “You hear stories how people dread having to get up to go to work in the morning; not me, I love what I do! I love Mondays.”
Her joy for and mastery of the art of teaching was recognized early on while she was at Kean when, in 1994, Halkias was awarded the Student Teacher of the Year Award. She credits the University’s education program for helping her diversify her skills and creating the foundation for what would become her personal teaching style.
“It wasn’t just books and theories,” she said, noting that her junior and senior field placements and internship gave her real-world experience in urban and suburban school districts––some of which had resources such as computers, for example, and others that didn’t.
Halkias also recounts the unwavering support, valuable lessons and professional opportunities provided by her Kean professors and field supervisors which she still recounts today. One such professor was Michael Searson, Ph.D., executive director of Kean’s School for Global Education and Innovation, who helped her and a classmate get published.
“I could tell from the outset that Nicole was an outstanding graduate student, and likely a very talented educator,” said Searson. “I was so impressed with her work that I asked her, along with another grad student, to co-author a chapter for a book I was co-editing, that emphasized the potential of innovative applications of technology in the teaching of literacy. This was very cutting-edge work in the late '90s, but Nicole handled the task like the dedicated and talented educator that she is. I congratulate her on her outstanding and well-deserved achievement.”