The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

Tenafly’s Mr. Whitehead Selected as Bergen County Teacher of the Year

Source: WRNJ Radio

In Tenafly High School’s fabled English wing there exists a classroom quite different from the others. Walking down the hall, you might hear class discussions emanating from it, shifting from the rhetorical analysis of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath to Trader Joe’s snack recommendations and then again to the identification of birds by mating calls. Walk inside the classroom and you might gaze upon a collection of freshly foraged mushrooms, or a collaborative seminar-style editing session of aspiring journalists. This environment is recognizable to many of Tenafly’s students, alumni, and teachers, and perhaps even more recognizable is the teacher conducting it: Mr. Whitehead.

On August 10, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) named 21 Teachers of the Year, one for each of its counties. It is a great honor for any teacher to be recognized, as they are considered role models for the scores of teachers not only across the state but the country as a whole. Upon the selection of the County Teachers of the Year, Governor Phil Murphy said on the NJDOE web site, “If you want to know why New Jersey’s public schools are rated as among the best in the nation, look no further than these 21 exemplars of the kind of quality teaching that takes place in every school throughout our state.” Because New Jersey is ranked number one in the nation for K-12 education, according to US News and World Report, its educators are held in very high regard, and their efforts can serve as a blueprint for a better education system across the country.

According to a press release from the NJDOE, “the County Teachers of the Year will network with educators throughout the state and serve as ambassadors for New Jersey’s public schools during the upcoming school year.” Selected County Teachers will participate in numerous events including meetings and assemblies, where they can provide insight into the range of issues facing America’s education system. 

“In the role of CTOY, it’s been exciting to think more broadly and to consider more deeply the disparities in education with regard to funding, supplies, technology, high quality teachers, and more,” Whitehead said. “I’ve also started to pay more attention to the politicization of education, especially regarding issues of race, gender, privilege and the lack thereof.”

While it’s only the early stages of his participation as CTOY, Whitehead has already been able to recognize its value in his own educational approach. “It’s funny to think how, when I first started teaching, I was considered cutting edge because I delivered many lessons using PowerPoint, a program that was new to most of the older teachers,” Whitehead said. The world of education has completely transformed over the years, and Mr. Whitehead’s continuous innovation and adaptation of modern teaching methods is a testament to the expertise he brings to the CTOY program, as well as his aptitude for harnessing opportunities to further his own teaching knowledge. 

This is Whitehead’s 27th year teaching English at Tenafly. He also taught at Grand View College in Iowa when he was in graduate school. Over his years at Tenafly, he has taught a multitude of classes including AP Lang, American Lit, World Lit, Creative Writing, Journalism, and a range of other electives. While he didn’t always know that he wanted to become a teacher, he had sources of inspiration that led him to where he is today. 

“My high school English teacher, Mr. Butlin—with his thick glasses, his comb-over hair, his tweed jackets—was a marvel to me. His knowledge of literature, of words, of culture, of humor seemed immense” said Mr. Whitehead, describing one of the teachers that made an impact on his journey. “My father was a high school teacher, too, and though it took a little longer for me to see it, he was an endearing marvel, as well:  patient, giving, wise, curious, and—pardon the cliché—noble.” His teachers inspired him to become not only a teacher but also the kind of teacher that he would want to be. His love for writing and reaching the youth made it evident that he could cherish the role of making English special to a younger generation, just as his teachers did for him.

Whitehead was surprised to be selected as Tenafly Teacher of the Year. “My initial reaction at being chosen …was one of shock and astonishment. After all, I’d taught for 26 years at the high school but hadn’t ever been selected,” he said. His selection as Tenafly Teacher of the Year, and eventually Bergen County Teacher of the Year and finalist for State Teacher of the Year, was no doubt influenced by his unique teaching style. Whitehead reaches his students in numerous ways, using programs like Kahoot and NoRedInk to incorporate modern resources into a subject that often isn’t correlated to technology. He also tries to make learning fun. 

“I try to maintain a light but purposeful tone in all my classes, getting to know the students personally and sharing my own personal interests, hobbies, and stories,” Whitehead said. “This kind of rapport helps to engage students. While I may be entertaining students with a personal story, behind it all there’s always the goal of making students better readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and thinkers.” said Mr. Whitehead, noting his strategies that make him special to students. He has also taken students abroad, first to England, where his students had the chance to see the renowned Globe Theatre and recite lines from Shakespeare, and then to Italy, where he led students on a tour of the country during spring break.

Mr. Whitehead’s students can attest to his effect on their learning experience. Whether he is their English teacher, Journalism teacher, or Echo Advisor— he creates a lasting impact on many of his students.

“Mr. Whitehead actively works to get to know his students,” alumnus Jacqueline Kim (’23) said. The fact that he genuinely cares about his students is evident through his small talk throughout class. Whether he’s talking about mushroom hunting, the latest episode of a mutually-enjoyed show, or weekend plans, Mr. Whitehead allows for opportunities to build authentic relationships.” 

“I think what makes Mr. Whitehead such a rare and impactful teacher is his clear passion for the subjects he teaches,” Charley Levine (’25) said.. “He engages with his students, creating a classroom environment in which they are eager to learn and ask questions. I have been taking Journalism since my freshman year with Mr. Whitehead, and the reason I continue to enroll in the course is because of his unique and exciting approach to teaching.” 

“Mr. Whitehead has stuck out to me throughout my years in high school for so many reasons, but the most prominent one is that he engages his students by integrating group work and lecture-style classes really well,” Edward Kim (’24) said. “As a result, I looked forward to his class often because topics like poetry never appeared to be interesting until I had him. I also love seeing his passion for outside-of-school hobbies such as mushroom hunting, mushroom growing, hand-cream making, pickleball, and more.” 

Mr. Whitehead has become one of Tenafly’s most renowned teachers, and there is no doubt that he will be able to represent us positively in the County Teacher of the Year assemblies. 

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Liam Tenenbaum
Liam Tenenbaum, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Liam Tenenbaum ('25) is a Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Echo. He enjoys writing satire based and opinionated journalism. He enjoys skiing competitively, traveling the world, trying new food, and watching sports games.