November/December 2020 Issue
October 18, 2020

Oceanside educator named 2021 NYS Teacher of the Year

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
teacher of the year
Caption: Jennifer Wolfe, a member of the Oceanside Federation of Teachers, was named the 2021 New York State Teacher of the Year by the State Education Department for her work with students in the classroom and empowering fellow educators to take on leadership roles. Photo by Becky Miller.

It may be hard to imagine now, but when Jen Wolfe — the 2021 New York State Teacher of the Year — set her sights on becoming nationally board certified, part of her motivation in doing so was, of all things, a sense of self-doubt.

“I pursued board certification in my seventh year, primarily because I wasn’t so sure I was as good a teacher as others said I was, if you want the honest truth. And so, I wanted to do what I thought was best for my students,” said Wolfe, who in September entered her 24th year teaching social studies at Oceanside High School on Long Island. “When I became board certified, it was such a great feeling. I knew that I demonstrated accomplished teaching and that I was capable of being a highly effective teacher. And, I wanted other teachers to feel that way too.”

So began Jen Wolfe’s mission.

Since becoming Oceanside’s first teacher to achieve National Board Certification in 2002, Wolfe has personally guided more than 20 other teachers in the district — as well as numerous others in districts across Long Island — through the rigorous 300-plus-hour process, considered the “gold standard” of the teaching profession. In fact, before Wolfe achieved NBCT status, which she renewed in 2012, there were only 66 NBCTs on Long Island. Through her mentorship as a National Board regional coordinator in recent years, there are now more than 200.

“Jen’s commitment to her profession is simply awe-inspiring,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “Her dedication to her practice, and her passion for constantly elevating not only her career but the career of her colleagues, is why teachers in New York State’s public schools consistently rank among the nation’s very best.”

Wolfe said she believes “districts can improve student learning by recognizing and empowering the problem-solving skill set of the accomplished teacher.


Also recognized by the State Education Department as 2021 Teacher of the Year finalists were: Sara Bambino, North Syracuse Education Association; James Brown, South Colonie Teachers Association; Chelsea Dyer, East Greenbush TA; and Victoria Gentile, Kings Park Classroom TA.

“When teachers are put in positions of leadership to control their profession,” she said, “the education that students receive is usually more effective.”

Mitch Bickman, director of social studies for K-12 in Oceanside, said what makes Wolfe so effective in the classroom is “she makes learning authentic at all times.”

“With Jen, it’s not just about the subject or particular topic students are studying,” Bickman said. “She brings life lessons to the curriculum as well, and I think students naturally gravitate toward that.”

Sophomore student Gracie Greenberg agrees.

“Ms. Wolfe gives us creative freedom which most teachers don’t do. We’re able to connect our own stories to what we are learning, even if it’s the ancient (North African Kingdom of) Kush.”

NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango called Wolfe’s passion for supporting young teachers “an inspiration.”

“Jen’s dedication to lifting her profession and ensuring the success of her fellow educators serves as a reminder that collaboration is a key ingredient to success in the classroom and that new teachers in New York State are not alone and will be supported as they develop their craft,” DiBrango said. “She is a testament to the excellence that is synonymous with the teaching profession in New York State.”

Jason Manning, a social studies teacher at Oceanside, credits Wolfe for his success in achieving National Board Certification and calls her “a mentor.”

“I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without Jen Wolfe,” Manning said. “She not only pushed me to become a better teacher, but she’s guided my hand throughout the course of my career.”