Alumni Profiles

Rutgers Alumna Named New Jersey State Teacher of the Year

Photo of Kimberly Dickstein Hughes
(Photo courtesy of Kimberly Dickstein Hughes)

Kimberly Dickstein Hughes RC’08, GSE’09 has been teaching English at Haddonfield Memorial High School since 2008, when she was hired while completing her master’s degree in English secondary education at Rutgers. In October, the 33-year-old Camden County native was named Teacher of the Year by the New Jersey Department of Education.

“Teachers play a critical part in enriching the lives of New Jersey’s future leaders,” said Governor Phil Murphy in announcing the award. “I applaud Kimberly for her dedication and commitment to prepare our students with the tools and support they need in order to succeed, not just in the classroom, but in the real world.”

With the accolades come a wide range of duties, including public speaking engagements, which Hughes will perform during a six-month sabbatical sponsored by Educational Testing Service. Meanwhile, she’s staying focused on the needs of her students. Here, she talks about her background and teaching philosophy.

You’ve said you were born to teach. How did you know?

My Grammy. She instilled in all her grandchildren the power of education. She would say, “The more you know, the more you grow.” I don’t know if I always knew I was going to be a classroom teacher, but I always knew I would be an educator.

Did you consider a different career path at one time?

I had thought, going into college, that I would become a lawyer. I wanted to go into advocacy work.

How did Rutgers fit into the picture?

My first choice was always Rutgers. I knew I’d be getting a world-class education that offered infinite opportunities. And I learned how to be a local and global advocate for my community while at Rutgers.

A big part of your approach to teaching is community involvement.

Yes. My high school P.E. teacher used to say, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” That stayed with me. What we teach in our classrooms should not be in isolation. We should incorporate authentic learning experiences by engaging the community.

What do you do differently than other teachers?

I teach students how to activate their own ideas. Whether a student wants to start a veterans’ awareness club or help a former child soldier attend graduate school, the idea is, how do you activate that? What programming will you do? Who should you approach? I want students to see the big picture idea beyond the book.

What’s difficult about teaching?

The grind is real. The school year is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be a really good endurance runner to be an educator.

What’s rewarding about it?

Here’s an example: This morning we had a Shakespeare meeting, where we’re reading monologues at 7:20 am. Kids are electing to come before school to do that, because we’re having fun. That’s magic. I think real magic happens in classrooms across this country every day.

More information about Hughes’ inspiring work and New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year program is available from the New Jersey Department of Education.