Patricia McLaughlin, originally of Middlesex County, walked through the doors of Mainland Regional High School nearly 20 years ago and, not long after, became a leader among its staff.
This year, the English teacher received the school's Teacher of the Year recognition - an honor the administration and many fellow teachers felt was overdue.
"Just before our December faculty meeting, I was paged to go to my supervisor's office," McLaughlin said. "He had a few questions and said he wanted my input," she recalled, making her late for the staff meeting that day.
She remembered walking into the Linwood school's auditorium, accompanied by the theme song from "Rocky" and her co-workers on their feet applauding, she said.
"Mark Marrone, our principal, introduced (me) as Teacher of the Year," she said. "Needless to say, I was flabbergasted."
Marrone, who has worked alongside McLaughlin for the past six years, said no one seemed more deserving of the honor.
"She really is someone that can meet the needs of all the students. She is a master teacher," he said.
McLaughlin, who once taught a writing course at Richard Stockton College, teaches freshman Honors and senior AP Literature at MRHS, as well as Response to Intervention (RTI), which provides targeted instruction for at-risk students.
She received the title after students, parents, teachers and community members nominated her for the difference she makes in the classroom and the innovative techniques she utilizes to make a positive impact on student's lives, said Kristen Lavery, supervisor of instruction and overseer of the Teacher of the Year committee.
Maryam Sarhan, a 17-year-old senior at MRHS noticed McLaughlin's efforts to ensure the success of all her English students, noting her energy and enthusiasm.
"She is a very compassionate teacher who cares for her students and works hard to help her students to succeed at all levels in English class," the Somers Point resident said.
It's not only the students who have noticed McLaughlin's honorable qualities.
Language arts teacher Tina Marie Colombo, who began teaching at MRHS in 2003, called McLaughlin a "mother-figure" in their department, often asking her for guidance or innovative strategies.
"She, for as long as I have known her, is the person that people turn to for advice," according to a typed letter Colombo wrote honoring McLaughlin. "She is a frequent soundboard for people trying to come up with new ideas. I can say her opinions are perhaps the most valued and trusted in our school."
The Mainland community is like family, McLaughlin said, adding that she works with many deserving teachers.
"It is incredibly humbling to have been selected Mainland's Teacher of the Year," she said.
McLaughlin will enter her nomination packet by March 7 to be considered for Atlantic County Teacher of the Year.
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