For Sarah Schectel, teaching had not always been a part of her plan, but she considers it the most rewarding career someone can have.
Schectel’s work ethic and passion have earned her the distinction of being name the 2022 Teacher of the Year in Cranbury School.
She was recognized at the Cranbury Township Board of Education meeting on May 18.
“I was surprised and overwhelmed and not quite sure what to say when I was named Teacher of the Year,” Schectel said. “It is very humbling and is quite an honor because the people I work, with all the way from Dr. Genco and my administrators, especially for me this year Liz Grimaldi, they have worked tirelessly for the kids and my population of students, which is the English language learner.”
She said to know that all of her students’ classroom teachers, who have collaborated and spent so much time for their students, thought highly of her made Teacher of the Year more of an honor.
Schectel has been teaching at the Cranbury School since 2010 and teaches Spanish and English as a second language.
“Senora Schectel is a consummate professional who gives tirelessly of herself to her students and their families,” said Susan Genco, Cranbury School principal and chief school administrator. “A fierce advocate for English language learners, Sarah goes over and above to support her students during and beyond the school day. To that end, she has developed powerful connections and relationships.”
For the 2021-22 school year, Schectel taught one class of Spanish for eight graders and also taught K-8 English Language Learner.
“Students thrive in her care and have the confidence to develop their unique skills and abilities in a safe and nurturing learning environment. We are so proud to celebrate her outstanding achievements in education!,” Genco added.
Before arriving at the Cranbury School in 2010, Schectel had taught for two years in the Hamilton Township School District.
At a young age, she said she did not know that her path would lead her to a career in teaching while in high school or college. That would come later in life.
After growing up in Bound Brook, she would make her way to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for college.
“In undergrad I majored in Spanish and minored in history. I just liked learning about other cultures, languages and being able to travel,” Schectel said. “I graduated with that degree and was not quite sure what to do with it.”
Once earning a Bachelor of Arts from Muhlenberg she spent a year in Colorado with AmeriCorps “doing kinds of social work and realizing that it was not quite for me. Then I went to Ecuador and taught ESL at a university there for a year,” she said. “That was a mix of adults and kids. I liked that, but missed my family, so I came back.”
Schectel, at the time in her 20s, would decide to go an alternate route and become a teacher following encouragement from her mother-in-law.
Her first couple of years teaching felt overwhelming as she worked to gain confidence, she said.
“Probably about four or five years in is when it started to click that I made the best choice I could as a career and that teaching is truly the most rewarding career someone can have,” she said.
Over the last two years, she would have to navigate a new landscape like her peers in teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everything about it felt challenging. I just felt when we were remote and in person and even this year when we have had students at home that we have had to teach remote it just makes you feel like you can’t be everywhere at once,” Schectel said. “This year has been much better than last year and really the whole COVID-19 teaching experience really showed me how important the relationships are with the students, before any of the academics.”
The excitement is still there every day to teach and remains rewarding, she said.
“I love my job. For a long time, I just taught Spanish, then our English as a second language learner population grew, so my role here at Cranbury School shifted years ago to teaching the majority of English language learners,” she said. “I really enjoyed the challenge of trying something new and love being able to collaborate with all of my peers. It has reenergized me and my teaching.”
She said her teaching is very visual. She uses a lot of pictures and video clips to illustrate vocabulary or a concept that they are learning.
“Just trying to use the school around us and the situations that present themselves for learning. I hope the students take away that they are part of a school community that will always care about them and that I will always care about them,” she said. “I hope they will continue following, investigating and learning about what interests them.”