Upper Township Middle School’s eighth-grade Language Arts teacher Shelley Forsman has been teaching at the school for the past 30 years. She and the other 20 county teachers of the year have been asked by the New Jersey educational Association to assist in reworking the teacher evaluation process.

Sharon Stabley

Upper Township Middle School's teacher Shelley Forsman sat down recently to speak about being named the 2012-13 Cape May County Teacher of the Year. But instead of taking about her honor, she spent most of interview gushing about the school's students and staff.

"Here, where I teach, this is Disney," she said. "This is a great place to teach, and I couldn't really be here without them. I think this title represents all of us. We have so many things here to show for it, and we're just little Upper Township in Cape May County. Those other big counties like Warren County and Hudson County have access to more money than we'll ever have, but our little school puts out the best kids, who go on to do great things."

Forsman and the other 20 county teachers of the year, plus the state facility teacher of the year, are in the running for state teacher of the year. The winner is scheduled to be named today at the state Board of Education meeting.

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Forsman has been teaching language arts at the school for the past 30 years. But more than teaching reading and writing, she teaches her students how to have fun and have confidence in themselves.

"Never take yourself too seriously, and never let somebody tell you that 'you can't,'" she said. "To me, being a teacher is a little bit of mothering, a little bit of teaching, a little bit of friendship - it's a little bit of everything. I go to games on Saturdays, school dances. I've been to recitals and birthday parties. Middle school is hard enough; you have to make it fun."

Upper Township Middle School Principal Ken Barth said Forsman's actions are evidence she cares deeply about the school. Despite being one of the more seasoned teachers, she's always open to change and is always learning and inspiring others, he said.

"If you don't learn and you don't change, you're never going to reach the children," Forsman said.

Forsman said, for her, the best benefit of the holding the title of County Teacher of the Year is having the opportunity to inspire others.

"(The New Jersey Educational Association) has given us this exposure and lots of 'thank yous' and they're saying 'Come to Princeton and be a part of the changes that are happening with the teacher evaluation process,'" Forsman said. "They are turning to us and saying, 'What can we do to make it better?' and so many times they don't ask the people who are doing the job. They've taken all 21 people and said 'You can make a difference. You have exposure to so many people' - children, their parents."

She said it's an empowering feeling to be part of crew of teachers who share the same love for their profession.

"You're surrounded by all these people who believe everything you believe, who do everything you do," she said. "This is recognition and validation that what you've done is appreciated, and it's very humbling."

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