Hillsborough Middle School literacy teacher left ‘speechless’ after being named Somerset County Teacher of the Year

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HILLSBOROUGH — It still seems surreal for Ian Evans.

The Hillsborough Middle School (HMS) seventh-grade literacy teacher was officially named Somerset County Teacher of the Year for 2022-23 by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) on August 11.

“It’s still very fresh and very raw. I’m still processing everything,” Evans said of the announcement.

“It’s amazing that this happened. It feels like those times when an alumnus reaches out and tells you about your impact. It’s a time when you can actually step back and see your work recognized and recognized.

The announcement was not “unexpected” for Evans. He found out he had earned the honor at the end of the 2021-22 school year. He qualified for the award after being named college teacher of the year.

Evans still remembers when he heard the news of his achievement. He was teaching his period 1 literacy class.

His hands began “to shake and adrenaline rushed through his veins” when he saw Kim Feltre, Acting Superintendent of Hillsborough Township Public Schools, Joseph Trybulski, Superintendent of HMS, and Roger A. Jinks, Superintendent Acting Executive of Somerset County Schools. Department of Education enter his classroom to tell him he has won the award.

“It was amazing,” Evans said. “I was literally speechless.”

It was a “cool” moment for Evans and one he was happy to share with his students there at the time.

Evans has spent his entire professional teaching career in the halls of HMS, joining the school for the first time in the 2011-12 school year to fill in for a teacher on leave.

A few years later, Evans got a permanent position at the school and is now about to start his 12th year of school.

“It’s surreal looking back from where I started and where I am now,” he said. “At the same time, I can almost look at different things that relate to certain years or different ways that have helped me develop and do everything I’ve done so far.”

When Evans was studying English Literature at Middlesex County College, now Middlesex College, Edison, he wrote a poem for his English composition course. His teacher sent him a note saying he should “publish the poem.”

It was the first time Evans had received this type of recognition or feedback for his writing. He called it “game changing”.

After graduating from Middlesex, Evans attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick where he took a course focusing on teaching as a profession.

This course also “spoke” to Evans, who continued on the path to graduating from Rutgers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English and secondary education.

As a student teacher, Evans taught primarily at the secondary level. However, it wasn’t when he started teaching at HMS that everything started to “click” and “feel good”.

Teaching English Literature in Year Seven suited him perfectly and he said Hillsborough was the perfect 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 created in the school district and in the community itself.

During his 11 years at Hillsborough, Evans said he was very proud of what he was able to accomplish as an educator and thanked the school for helping him grow as a teacher of different manners.

“I’m really excited to teach middle school and engage with my students and see 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 a better understanding of them and their lives outside the classroom.

An example of this is that Evans has instituted a reflective journal unit for his students for the past two school years. The unit revolves around recent events of the coronavirus pandemic and provides students with the opportunity to write about how the pandemic has 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 within yourself,” Evans said. “I think reading and writing is a lot 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 different styles of literature and writing, Evans also helped start college clubs.

Evans helped establish the Writer’s House Club, which he says is modeled after the creative writing program he attended at Rutgers.

The Creative Writing Workshop offers prospective students the opportunity to write independent articles that Evans and other advisors critique. Students can then submit their pieces to various school writing competitions or creative writing festivals.

Evans is also an advisor for HMS CARES which is the extension of BoroCARES, a grassroots organization for the “Coalition for Anti-Racism and Fair Trade Schools”.

HMS CARES gives students the opportunity to have group discussions about current events and social issues around the world. They can also participate in different events in the community, such as the BoroSafe mental health and wellness fair that the township has hosted in recent years, Evans said.

Evans said his ability and love for reading and writing helped him find a passion for learning about different subjects, as well as inserting them into his teaching practices.

He also thanks his fellow teachers, former teachers and other administrators for helping him become the teacher he is today and Somerset County Teacher of the Year.

One such person in particular is his wife, Natasha Cuiffo, who teaches public schools in East Brunswick Township.

“My wife has been so influential in my teaching career,” Evans said. “Everyone in my life helped me grow and gave me the space to have the opportunity to do what I did.”

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