One-on-one with Antoinette Modrak, a former graduate, and principal of Linden High School, New Jersey, who has been in education since 1993.

In 1999, she was named the Junior Achievement Union County Teacher of the Year. Modrak has worked with the Linden Chamber of Commerce, the Library Board of Linden, and the Municipal Alliance. Now, as Coordinator of Special Projects for the District, she shares some of the gems of her career and advice for teachers and students.

At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to be a teacher?

I have always loved learning and helping people. After being involved in business management for almost seven years, I was at a decisive point in my career which was going to require more education. I had the opportunity to fill in for a Business Ed teacher for five months and that sealed the deal for me. I loved teaching the students and learning from them too.

What are some of your best and worst memories of high school?

As a student, my worst memory was having an Art teacher who did not develop our techniques but instead was negative. Some of my best memories come from the diverse opportunities that were given to me through clubs, honors classes, and after-school activities.

I also loved the teachers that took the time to get to know me. The support I received when my parents were getting divorced (a rare occurrence at that time) helped me in maintaining my grades and assisted me in getting accepted into college.

How was your school affected by Hurricane Sandy?

We had some families that were hit hard. Some just escaped from being drowned. Many others had no power or water for several weeks. When we re-opened the school, there was a genuine feeling of relief to see each other, and to be together was endearing.

How was your school affected by the Sandy Hook Shooting?

We were all aghast with horror and sadness. Institutions like schools and churches are supposed to be safe havens. Counseling services were offered to staff and students who needed support. I knew it was important to reassure the students as well as the staff that we are safe. We were able to be involved in the Snow Flake Project for Sandy Hook students.

What is your current role and what do you love most about it?

As a district administrator in charge of Special Projects, my current project is to create Before/After School Programs for our eight elementary schools in the Linden Public Schools that would be enriching, nurture, and encompassing the many interests of our students. What I love most about my job is empowering the staff to show off their talents and share them with the students. I love it when the children don’t want to leave our sites to go home.

What makes a great teacher?

One who is not only passionate about their subject but is passionate about making a difference - one student at a time. What makes a great student? Every student has the potential to be a great student. A great student to me is one who takes the opportunity given to them to learn, explore and experience new things.

What would you like to see changing in modern education?

I would like to see the profession of teaching be more revered to attract more minorities into the field. I believe our students need to see diverse role models who can get the message across that they can achieve their goals and that education is the key.

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