Jennifer Wolfe, a 1996 graduate of Clarkson’s Master’s of Art in Teaching program, has been named the 2021 New York State Teacher of the Year by the Board of Regents.
Wolfe has been teaching for 24 years and currently teaches Grade 9 PreAP World History, AP Human Geography to grades 11 and 12 and grade 12 Government at Oceanside High School in Oceanside, NY.
Looking forward to becoming an advocate for teachers and public education, Wolfe said it is an overwhelming honor to have received the prestigious award.
“In my opinion folks are attracted to teaching to create opportunities for others, to help others rise. It is strange to be on the receiving end of all of this attention,” Wolfe said. “I do this work to celebrate others - but I must admit to feel love and support and recognition for work I am so passionate about is pretty darn awesome!”
Wolfe’s passion for the classroom began as a child. Supported by two hard working parents who saw the benefit of education through the lens of having never attended college themselves, Wolfe toted her self-standing blackboard around her neighborhood to teach anyone who would listen, including her brother, neighbors, even her stuffed animals.
The opinion of her father on the topic of education is something that resonates with Wolfe to this day, and is at the core of what she presents to her students.
“My Dad dropped out of high school in the winter of his senior year, and joined the Marine Corps. While he never regretted being a Marine, he often talks about wishing he continued with his education,” Wolfe said. “When I asked him why, he said, ‘Because once you have an education no one can take that away from you, and with an education you have options, options that one doesn't necessarily have without a degree.’ I took that to heart. He must have told me that when I was in high school. I continue to pass that message to students year after year. An education gives you options, the freedom to choose - in my opinion that is a powerful message for kids to hear.”
During her time at Clarkson, Wolfe studied under the expert care of Dr. Patrick Allen and Beatrice Hall, using the National Board Standards in practice and peer review in the teaching labs.
“I was deeply inspired by the care and intellect I experienced as a student,” Wolfe said. “The year-long pre-service teaching placement was something new at the time in New York State and probably the country. Being with the kids and working with my cooperating teacher made all the difference when I went out looking for a job.”
Wolfe also said Dr. Allen and the Capital Region Teacher Center supported her candidacy for National Board Certification in 2001, when no similar option was available on Long Island.
“My Superintendent allowed me to take one day off per month to attend the cohorts run by Dr. Patrick Allen and Judy Morely,” Wolfe explained. “That help was invaluable for me as I worked on the process on my own back on Long Island. Dr. Allen and Judy Morely helped me hone my craft and become an accomplished teacher. There is no way anyone gets good at anything totally on their own, and I can say without a doubt that having Dr. Allen and Judy Morely in my corner put me on the path to become the 2021 New York Teacher of the Year.”
Wolfe was not the only Clarkson alumnus in contention for Teacher of the Year. Jim Brown ‘90, a 5th and 6th grade STEM teacher at South Colonie Central Schools in Albany, was named a finalist for the award. He said being a finalist for Teacher of the Year means his network will grow and that his network is what put him in a position to be a finalist in the first place.
Wherever I go I meet people who have a wealth of knowledge and are willing to share what they have learned,” Brown said. “I am able to stitch all of this information together and combine it with my own knowledge to share with others. I have always focused on problem-based learning, and was fortunate to be able to help initiate a unique STEM program in the school district where I teach.”