Early in the celebration honoring him as the 2015 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year on Tuesday, May 6, Dr. Jeff Shea gave the impression that he would have liked to be anywhere BUT sitting at center court of Belmont High School’s Wenner Field House.
With the entire student population and teachers in the bleachers, a brass band and chorus serenading him, a gym adorn with dozens of large signs of congratulations, and school, local and state officials gathered to honor him being named the state’s top teacher, Shea pensively sat next to his wife, Valerie, under an oversized banner proclaiming him the state’s teacher of the year.
“It was nerve wracking,” Shea said later. “Like your first day in the classroom.”
On, appropriately, National Teachers Recognition Day, Shea was presented with the title before the entire Belmont High community.
“Wow,” Shea said when he got to the podium, later noting that “I wouldn’t have chosen to get everyone together here for this particular reason.”
“I see this award not so much as a personal award but certainly as a reflection of the strength of our community,” said Shea, an Arlington resident who attended Andover High School before matriculating at Tulane University.
From golf pro (Shea taught on the greens in western Massachusetts and on Maui) to educational professional, the Belmont High School social studies teacher creating and leading the popular global leadership courses for 11th and 12th graders, his help introducing new technology – such as iPods to 9th grade freshmen entering the High School in September – to spur learning “and his overall ability to inspire merits him this particular recognition,” Dr. Thomas Kingston, Belmont’s school superintendent, told the assembly.
A 10-year Belmont district veteran who also coaches the resurgent Boy’s Golf team, Shea “is the kind of teacher that marries the passion for teaching … to a greater understanding of the subjects he loves and knows,” said Kingston. “It’s pretty wonderful to have someone like [Shea] on our faculty because … he represents the best in all of us,” he said.
Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Dr. Mitchell Chester – who also recognized the other teachers in the Field House “who are second to none in the world” – said “this is the place to be” as the state honors Shea. Shea will also speak before the legislature in June and will be the state’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year.
Calling him a continuous learner who is “very reflective” on educational issues, Chester said he could not think of a more important area of study today than Shea’s interest and teaching of global leadership because “increasingly where you grow up is going to be less … determinative of your opportunities” so it important “to understand the global world in which we live.”
“I am deeply humbled and extremely honored” to win the award, said Shea who gave special recognition to his “mentor and very close friend” recently retired sixth grade teacher Joanne Coffey who took Shea under her wing at Belmont’s Chenery Middle School.
Shea noted one of the major strengths Belmont has to resulted in his award and Belmont High’s high academic reputation “is the commitment parents … have made to their children’s education” having benefited from that effort which included the “generosity” of the Foundation for Belmont Education.
And despite the considerable accolades the district has received – last week, Belmont High was ranked the top open enrollment public high school in Massachusetts and 151st in the country by US News & World Report – the administration “is still trying to move us forward.”
He also took time to point to his colleagues, “so many amazing teachers in the room, so many deserving teachers” that Shea suggested Chester be provided a parking pass as he could return next year to make the same presentation.
Shea finally spoke to his former and present students, those he taught at the Chenery, in his High School classroom or coached on the golf course.
“The trait that most defines the students at Belmont High School is your curiosity and that will lead you to many successes in the past and will lead you to many successes in the future. It also makes teaching a lot of fun” with students who “want to learn is incredibly important.”
“So I would be remise if I did not say at this point that I apologize to students and facility for the interruption in teaching and learning this morning,” he said.
“[Teaching] is a great profession because it is so very challenging and trying to overcome challenges, I think, is life,” he said.