Woodland Regional High School’s 600-plus students rose to their feet and cheered as beloved teacher Meghan Hatch-Geary was honored in a surprise ceremony announcing Connecticut’s 2020 Teacher of the Year (TOY). The announcement came this morning at the Beacon Falls school where she and her husband, building rep Paul Geary, teach English.
“We are so proud to see Meghan recognized for the invaluable work she does and for the talent, passion, and dedication she brings to the teaching profession,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “Her work, like that of her peers, does not begin and end when the bell rings; it extends well beyond the school day and well beyond the walls of her classroom, into extracurriculars and the community sphere. Connecticut’s teachers truly enrich the lives of their students and delight in their personal and academic achievements, and we are pleased to honor Meghan as an ambassador for the profession. She is an exemplar and an inspiration.”
CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas, who serves on the TOY selection committee, explained, “One of the many things that impresses me about Meghan and sets her apart is her commitment to social justice issues—not only promoting social justice in her classroom and sponsoring school clubs and activities but also doing work in the community and beyond.”
Hatch-Geary helped found the Woodland Worldwide Club for students and teachers as a way of taking action on human trafficking and advancing women’s and girls’ issues locally and globally. She also served as an advisor to her school-based gay/straight alliance, establishing the GSA’s signature field trip to the True Colors convention hosted each year at UConn. As a supporter of the arts, she regularly attends her school’s fine arts evenings and participates in faculty and student book clubs.
“I’ve created my own reading challenge, #MRSGEARYREADS, for faculty and students,” she says, “in which I encourage readers to explore world cultures and diverse voices. I have built a classroom library over the years that reflect the lives and stories of ethnically diverse people.”
“Ms. Geary is such a positive influence on the entire student body,” said Woodland High School freshman Kayleigh Budnick. “I always see her in the hallways initiating conversations with students that show how much she cares about us. She deserves all the love and attention she is getting today.”
Like dozens of her peers—and teachers—senior Madelyn Vallillo wore a T-shirt in the school’s colors emblazoned with the words “Team Hatch-Geary“ on the front and “I’m with her” on the back.
“I absolutely adore Ms. Geary,” Vallillo said, holding up a special journal she purchased and passed around for students to write their own personal messages of congratulations and thanks to their Teacher of the Year. “It was the least I could do to support a teacher who has made such an impact on me.” Vallillo has never had Geary as a teacher but says, “She is always stopping me in the hallway and talking to me about journalism, which is what I do, and she has been such a great influence on me.”
“There is nobody more valuable in the world than a great teacher,” said Governor Ned Lamont, congratulating Hatch-Geary on her award. “Nothing is more important than a teacher who inspires you and helps you find something you love. Judging by the reaction of this crowd, we got it right.”
Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona offered his congratulations to the school community and commended Hatch-Geary for her passion for equity and elevating the work of educators.
“She serves as a living example of what we know: that teachers save lives,” Cardona said.
Taking the stage, Hatch-Geary thanked her colleagues.
“I’m so proud to be one of you,” she told them, praising the authentic and meaningful learning experiences they provide for their students and the support, excitement, flexibility, and expertise they share with one another. “Look anywhere in our school—English, history, fine arts, tech ed, sociology, forensics—and you’ll find incredible teachers and incredible students partnering in the learning experience. This honor I am receiving doesn’t mean I’m the best teacher but the person right now who represents all the wonderful things happening in our public schools and who will advocate for public education. We are all in this together; diversity is our strength, and every student needs you.”
Addressing students, she added, “You give my life purpose. Maybe some of you will become teachers and experience the profound gratification of a career you love—one that humbles and inspires you. This is where I found my true self, my calling, my life.”
Woodland High School student Emma Flaherty followed Hatch-Geary to the podium to offer this assessment of her teacher: “Anyone who has had the privilege of knowing her knows how much she deserves this. She is involved in everything. As students, we feel welcomed and safe, and we feel her dedication to us. She focuses on what we do right, and she also insists that we challenge our worldview and examine how we treat others. Because she is so kind, poised, intelligent, and accepting of others, we strive to emulate her.”