HILLSBOROUGH – It still feels surreal for Ian Evans.
The seventh grade literacy teacher at Hillsborough Middle School (HMS) was officially announced as the Somerset County Teacher of the Year for 2022-23 by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) on Aug 11.
“It’s still very fresh and very raw. I’m still processing everything,” Evans said of the announcement.
“It’s incredible that it happened. It feels like those moments when a former student reaches out and talks to you about your impact. It’s a moment that you can actually pull back and see that your work is being acknowledged and recognized.”
The announcement was not “unexpected” for Evans. He found out he earned the honor at the end of the 2021-22 school year. He qualified for the award after being named the middle school’s Teacher of the Year.
Evans can still remember when he found out the news of his accomplishment. He was teaching his Period 1 literacy class.
His hands started “shaking and adrenaline was rushing through his veins” when he saw the likes of Hillsborough Township Public Schools Acting Superintendent Kim Feltre, HMS Principal Joseph Trybulski and Roger A. Jinks, interim executive county superintendent of schools for the Somerset County Education Department enter his classroom to tell him he won the award.
“It was incredible,” Evans said. “I was literally speechless.”
It was a “cool” moment for Evans and one he was happy to share with his students in attendance at the time.
Evans has spent his whole professional teaching career in the hallways of HMS, first joining the school during the 2011-12 school year to take over for a teacher on leave.
A couple years later, Evans earned a tenured track position at the school, and now is about to embark on his 12th school year.
“It’s surreal to look back from where I started and to where I am now,” he said. “At the same time, I can almost look at different things that are connected to certain years or different ways that have helped me develop and do everything I have done to this point.”
When Evans was studying English literature at Middlesex County College, now Middlesex College, in Edison, he wrote a poem for his English composition class. His professor sent him a note saying that he should “publish the poem.”
It was the first time Evans had gotten that type of acknowledgement or feedback on his writing. He called it “game changing.”
After graduating from Middlesex, Evans attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick where he took a class that revolved around teaching as a profession.
That course also “spoke” to Evans, who continued on a path to graduating from Rutgers with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English and secondary education.
As a student teacher, Evans spent teaching primarily at the high school level. However, it’s not when he started teaching at HMS, everything started to “click” and “feel right.”
Teaching seventh grade English Literature was the perfect fit for him and he said Hillsborough was the place to do it.
Evans is currently a resident of Highland Park, but calls Hillsborough his “second home” as he has enjoyed the relationships and memories he has made in the school district and in the community itself.
In his 11 years at Hillsborough, Evans said he is very proud of what he has been able to accomplish as an educator and credits the school for helping him grow as a teacher in many different ways.
“I’m really happy teaching middle school and engaging with the students I have and seeing them improve as writers,” he said.
Evans says the most important quality that has helped him as a teacher is “patience” with his students and gaining a better understanding of them and their lives outside the classroom.
An example of that is Evans instituted a reflection journal unit for his students within the past two school years. The unit revolves around the recent events of the coronavirus pandemic and provides students the opportunity to write about how the pandemic affected them and how they are coping with it.
“No matter where you are, my goal is to help you get to where you want to be and show you the potential in yourself,” Evans said. “I think of reading and writing as being very much like ‘How can we help you communicate the amazing stories you have with the world outside of you?'”
In addition to helping his students become better writers and introducing them to the different styles of literature and writing, Evans has also contributed to creating middle school clubs.
Evans helped institute the Writer’s House Club, which he said was modeled after the creative writing program he participated in at Rutgers.
The creative writing workshop provides prospective students the opportunity to write independent pieces that Evans and other advisors critique. Students can then submit their pieces into various different scholastic writing competitions or creative writing festivals.
Evans is also an advisor for HMS CARES that is the extension of BoroCARES, a community-based organization for “Coalition for Antiracist and Equitable Schools.”
HMS CARES gives students the opportunity to have group discussions about current events and social issues in the world. They can also participate in different events around the community like the BoroSafe Mental Health and Wellness Fair that the township has run the past few years, said Evans.
Evans said his ability and love for reading and writing has helped him find a passion for learning about different subjects, as well as inserting them into his teaching practices.
He also credits fellow teachers, past professors and other administrators in helping him become the teacher he is today and the title of Somerset County Teacher of the Year.
One of those people in particular is his wife, Natasha Cuiffo, who is a teacher in the East Brunswick Township Public Schools.
“My wife has been so influential in my teaching career,” Evans said. “Everyone in my life has helped me grow and given me the space to have the opportunity to do what I have done.”