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posted: Mon, Jan 15th, 2018

Meet Tinc Road’s Teacher of the Year

Brittany Van Houten makes teaching kindergarten look easy. If you’ve ever been in a room with one 5-year-old, the very thought of being with more than 20 of those little bundles of energy should send shivers up your spine. But peek into Miss Van Houten’s classroom and you’ll always see perfectly behaved students having fun and focused on their schoolwork. 

It’s early elementary instructional wizardry. Ms. Van Houten’s seamless fusion of refined classroom management techniques, active learning, and nurturing appears so natural in its execution, it belies the dedication and skill behind it all. 

“She’s worked hard to become the educator she wanted to be and is always trying to do her very best for her students,” said Kathy Diefes, a third-grade teacher and former Teacher of the Year, who mentored Ms. Van Houten during her first year in the district. “I knew she had what it takes to be a master teacher. I never doubted it for a minute.”

In the classroom: fun, energetic, and nurturing

Ms. Van Houten keeps students engaged by incorporating a great deal of hands-on activities into her lessons, which makes learning fun and meaningful. She’s continually trying new and innovative techniques and constantly peppers students with questions that compel them to sit up and pay attention. On the classroom stage, she has a presence and an overwhelming energy that eclipses that of her kids.

“She is always so animated and energetic when working with students,” said kindergarten teacher Kim Glowinsky, Ms. Van Houten’s next-door school neighbor for more than five years. “It would be impossible for them not be excited to learn. Brittany’s enthusiasm rubs off on everyone around her and her positivity is absolutely contagious.” 

Somehow Ms. Van Houten even makes staying quiet a fun activity. Her students are easy to identify in the hallway – they’re the ones with their cheeks puffed up with “bubbles” they’ve caught in their mouths. Pretty impossible to talk without letting those bubbles escape the lips.

Karen Lynn Fiumara, a parent of two students who have been taught by Ms. Van Houten, was one of the people who nominated the young educator for the award. In the nomination letter, Ms. Fiumara described the impact that Ms. Van Houten had on her son four years ago. 

“Our son flourished in Miss Van Houten’s class, academically, emotionally, and socially,” she said. “He would come home every day with stories of what they were learning, what book she read, what fun activities they were doing, or what silly song she had done. He was enamored with her. Miss Van Houten shapes babies into big kids and preschoolers into students. She is honestly a gift to every child in her class.”

‘No words’

“When I heard the announcement I could not believe that my name was being called,” said Ms. Van Houten. I was in such shock. I literally had no words to say at the staff breakfast when I won.”

From a maternity leave replacement to Tinc Road Teacher of the Year in just 6 1/2 years is indeed quite a trajectory. Ms. Van Houten credits a teacher she had early on for igniting her passion for the profession. 

“My second-grade teacher was an inspiring and nurturing educator who changed my view on school drastically,” she said. “To this day she is still my favorite teacher and I credit her teaching style and learning environment for why I wanted to become a teacher.”

Ms. Van Houten was born in Clifton but moved to Georgia with her family when she was 7. She returned to New Jersey in middle school and now lives in Montville. She holds a bachelors in early childhood education from William Patterson University where she also minored in English and social studies.

When she’s not at work, she likes to stay active by exercising and hiking – two activities that help balance out her love of cooking. She also has a passion for animals and enjoys spending time with her adopted dog, Charlie.

For winning the school’s Teacher of the Year honor, she received flowers from the staff and balloons brought in by parents. The PTO also gave her a $100 gift card to purchase extra classroom supplies.

She is now a contender for the district’s Teacher of the Year award.

Extending a helping hand

Susan McMullen stands among the donations

The Mount Olive Food Pantry was stocked up for the holidays thanks to the caring efforts of Tinc Road students and staff. The school collected 384 pounds of food and 591 pounds of toiletries – nearly half a ton in all – for community members who could use a helping hand. 

“All the students had such big smiles on their faces when they donated, they love helping others,” said school nurse Geri-Lynn Sullivan, who coordinated the annual holiday drive with guidance counselor Lisa Barba and social worker Andrea Shore. “Through this and other activities we do throughout the year, the kids learn how to be grateful for what they have and that being kind and caring can feel terrific.”

Susan McMullen, a fourth-grader in Rebecca Hopler's class, contributed 378 pounds of toiletries with the help of family and friends.

Susan’s mother posted info about the drive on her Facebook page after Susan told her how much she wanted to help. Dozens of people, even many from out of state, sent in packages. Some donated money which was converted into gift cards that were also donated.

“I wanted to help people out who didn’t have what they needed for a happy holiday,” said Susan.

The prepackaged food that was donated included everything needed for a traditional holiday meal including stuffing, canned fruits and veggies, instant potatoes, jarred gravies, boxed pie crusts and canned pie fillings, and canned cranberry sauce. 

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Tinc Road School
24 Tinc Road Flanders, NJ 07836
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