William E. Hutnik Is Named Educator of the Year By New Jersey Council of Teachers of English
EDUCATION EXCELLENCE: “Each year is different, and the students are different. I love the fact that they are engaged in the work, and that I can learn from them too. In the beginning of my teaching career, I thought I would be the one to do the talking and teaching, but now I feel the teaching should come from the students.” William E. Hutnik, Upper School English teacher at The Pennington School, is shown in front of Old Main, one of the oldest buildings at the school.
By Jean Stratton
The greatest gift a teacher can impart to a student is a love of learning. This will begin a lifelong journey of exploration, discovery, and enlightenment.
William E. Hutnik is such a teacher.
For 20 years in the English Department at The Pennington School, he has been inspiring students not only to read great literature, but also, through his collaborative strategies, has encouraged them to exchange ideas and sharpen critical thinking skills.
His years of dedication and accomplishment have not gone unnoticed. He has been the recipient of the Henry and Selma Otte Distinguished Teacher Award by The Pennington School, and most recently, was selected as New Jersey Council Teachers of English Educator of the Year. This is a prestigious award given to a teacher who embodies dedication, dynamism, scholarship, and creativity.
Hutnik was honored for his creative, innovative, and collaborative work as a teacher.
“I am humbled by this honor, and gladly accept it on behalf of all my fellow educators at Pennington and in New Jersey,” he said at the award ceremony. “To continually be both student and teacher during a career is a gift. Each day, there are multiple opportunities to learn from co-workers and students alike. Over the decades, I have learned many things: to listen more than lecture, and to ask more than answer, to value habits over homework, and progress over perfection.”
Hutnik’s career in education has been a remarkable journey, including global teaching experience. After graduating from James Madison University in Virginia, he later received a Master of Arts in English from the College of New Jersey.
From 1996 to 1998, he worked abroad as an instructor in English to Japanese students in a variety of classroom settings; he taught ESL classes for students aged 7 to 75, and was a lecturer and mentor for new teachers.
At a public high school in Kudamatsu, Japan, he designed and taught three first year English courses with a 40-student enrollment per class, concentrating on English grammar, basic conversation, and pronunciation.
At Tokuyama University, Hutnik was the designer and instructor of two 100-level English language courses with a 50-student enrollment per class.
As a member of Mercer County Community College’s adjunct faculty, he taught math, reading, and writing skills to adult students pursuing GED, gaining admission to college, and/or improving employment opportunities.
During these varied teaching experiences, he realized that a career in education was his goal. “I began to feel that teaching is what I wanted do,” he recalls.
He applied to The Pennington School, and was hired, beginning a long association with this respected independent, co-ed boarding and day school. Enjoying the experience at Pennington, he was nevertheless ready when a new opportunity for travel abroad presented itself in 2001. He was selected to represent The Pennington School in a teaching program via the school’s relationship with TASIS—The American School in England.
While there, he taught three 10th-grade English courses, two ninth-grade English courses, and served as student advisor, house resident, duty advisor, study hall proctor, and advisor of recreational street hockey and soccer.
The diversity of these teaching experiences in such varied settings has given Hutnik an added dimension in his role as an educator. Many skills, talents, and experiences come together to make up the mosaic of a successful teacher.
As he points out, “Skilled teachers of English all share the same core characteristics: each possesses the ability and knowledge to understand the literature, each displays a tangible passion for the story, and each continuously refines methods and means to effectively transfer both this knowledge and passion. Basically, successful teachers demonstrate how stories and poems have real truth, purpose, and meaning in the lives of their students.”
He has been able to provide these learning opportunities to his Upper School students at Pennington, and over the years, he has designed and taught AP literature and composition, and in addition, designed and taught a variety of elective courses, including Utopian literature, Beat literature, multi-cultural literature, Harlem Renaissance, and Dystopian literature (which includes unique and innovative student participation strategies).
Student engagement is paramount in his classes. As he explains, “We can use poetry, for example Beat poems, to help students see the techniques used and to understand the purpose. Then, we’ll have the students write a poem incorporating the techniques. At the end of the course, they put on a performance with their own poetry.”
Dante to Shakespeare
His classes cover Dante to Shakespeare to George Orwell and many other prominent literary figures. One of his challenges is to find ways to demonstrate their relevance to today’s world.
“For example,” he points out, “In the case of Dante, what is he writing about? How can we connect that to what is going on in 2018? How about Orwell’s 1984? The students read this and can compare it to 2018 and what is happening now.”
“How about the pros and cons of technology?” he continues. “You can find information so quickly, but what about privacy? Does it lead to Big Brother?”
Encouraging student responsiveness is continuous throughout the class, he points out. “I’ll say, ‘you have read 300 pages, now let’s hear what you think. What do you have to say?’ As a teacher, I love seeing the students working hard and enjoying learning. We have small classes, and this gives us the opportunity to get to know the kids and who they are, their strengths and weaknesses. It’s important that they are comfortable asking questions.”
His students have appreciated his teaching style and his interaction with them. His former student Irina R. Celentano, who went on to Notre Dame, recalls his impact on her Pennington academic experience.
“As a teacher, Mr. Hutnik is challenging. There was a time he let me teach a class in Russian literature when we were studying Crime and Punishment. He decided that I would be the best person to introduce Dostoevsky to our class since I had just finished a summer of intensive study of his life and works.
Fun and Exciting
“Another wonderful thing about Mr. Hutnik is that he is not afraid to try out teaching methods that are a little unorthodox for the sake of keeping class fun and exciting. Truly exceptional teachers unpretentiously give students support and knowledge that lift them up intellectually and personally. Mr. Hutnik does precisely that every day.”
His colleagues and fellow educators have also recognized his range of abilities. As John Bouton. Pennington English Department chair, notes: “Bill’s dynamism is reflected in his work within the discussions that dominate his class. Bill teaches two electives and two sections of AP English Literature and Composition.
“Masterful at asking students questions and responding to their points as appropriate, Bill has distinguished himself as one of the most student-centered teachers at Pennington. While it reflects his creativity as much as his dynamic personality, Bill is known for designing collaborative lessons that inspire students to prize authentic self-expression and close reading of literature. These learning activities, including poetry readings, mock demonstrations, and immersion in Dystopian exercises, are largely public, fueling lots of student interest and learner accountability.
“Ultimately, Bill is certainly the most creative English teacher we have at Pennington, and likely among a handful of the most innovative faculty members here. Despite his reputation as a hard grader, Bill attracts two to three times more seniors to enroll in his electives than any other, a function of the creative exercises in self-expression that he mandates as part of his coursework. Bill Hutnik’s dedication to students is, in a word, exemplary.”
Adds Pennington Dean of Faculty John Daves, PhD, in reference to his observation of Hutnik’s senior AP literature class: “Although the class was meeting at the end of the day, I was impressed with how engaged they were in preparing for the AP exam, and I was pleased to observe William’s ability to shift from expert to listener and learner of the student-led class discussion. He created a forum for the students to present and build off of each other’s ideas and sharing of passages from various works of literature.
“He has worked diligently on developing student-centered learning in his AP literature and senior elective courses. He clearly has worked on becoming a more self-aware teacher by focusing on creating more spaces for students to develop the critical thinking habits of mind that his students will need in college and throughout their lives.”
In the midst of his myriad academic responsibilities, Hutnik also finds time to serve in a variety of other capacities. He has participated in a wide range of workshops and institutes, as he continues to engage in professional development.
In addition, he has been selected to take part in academic seminars and Teachers as Scholars at Princeton University, and was awarded a spot in the highly competitive National Endowment for the Humanities Shakesperean Institute program at Illinois State University.
Hutnik also serves as student advisor to help students successfully navigate their high school career. In addition, he is head varsity water polo coach and middle school swimming coach.
He points out that he enjoys these activities. “A lot is going on in the students’ lives. There is a lot to cope with in the age of the internet; it’s important that they know they can open up about their difficulties, if they are struggling with difficult things.”
In further interaction with the students, as part of the Pennington Horizon Capstone program, he plans to take a group of Pennington seniors on a week-long hike of the New Jersey section of the Appalachian Trail (70-plus miles) later this month.
He also especially enjoys the sports programs. An experienced swimmer, he participated in water polo in college; now, his involvement in helping students become proficient in water sports is a pleasure for him.
Another pleasure is living in Hopewell Borough with his wife Amy and their two children, Daisy (13) and Chance (8). An additional source of happiness is that Daisy now attends Pennington. “One of my great joys is that my daughter is in the eighth grade here. It’s wonderful that I get to see her in school, and say ‘Hi, how’s your day going?’”
To be in such an environment, among congenial colleagues and enthusiastic students, must be a special satisfaction for an educator. And then to be honored by his peers with a prestigious award, recognizing his years of dedication and excellent teaching skills, is further acknowledgment that he surely chose the right profession.
“The recognition from the school and colleagues means a lot to me,” he says. “When I first started my career, I’d never have thought I’d be here 20 years. But here I am, and this is a wonderful place to be.”