Anthony Mullen: Newsmaker

By Glenn Cook

Anthony Mullen did not want to work with kids when it was “too late.” So the New York Police Department narcotics detective left a 20-year career and became a special education teacher.

“With teaching, you get to spend a lot more time with these at-risk students and prevent them from either going to jail or harming other people, turning into something productive instead of destructive,” says Mullen, who works with students at the ARCH School in Greenwich, Conn.

Mullen’s focus on his students—“my kids” as he calls them—is one reason he was selected by representatives from 15 national education associations (including NSBA) to serve as the 2009 National Teacher of the Year. The program is run by the Council of Chief State School Officers with the support of the ING Foundation.

In late April, the eight-year teaching veteran and the other 52 state teachers of the year were honored in a White House ceremony. It was the first Rose Garden event of the Obama administration.

“It all felt surreal. You could not have a higher honor than to be recognized at the White House in the Rose Garden,” Mullen said in an interview with Editor-in-Chief Glenn Cook. “Not in my wildest imagination did I ever imagine that something like this would happen to me.”

But to Mullen, something far more important happened when he returned to ARCH after a week in the nation’s capital. At the “last chance” alternative school, he found a group of students focused and ready to work.

“The students were waiting for me to get back,” he says. “They saw the news crews coming and they had microphones in front of them and cameras in front of them. It’s not what this type of honor says about me. It’s what it says about education and their school. It recognized and lifted them up greatly. The sense of value that it gave them ... you could not put a price on that.”

Here are other excerpts from the interview:

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