Cherry Hill native Eric O’Neill teaches his way to the top

The social studies teacher and boys swim team head coach was named Shawnee High School “Teacher of the Year.”

Eric O’Neill, a social studies teacher at Shawnee High School since 2008, has spent much of his life furthering his education. Now using his knowledge to teach others, his dedication to and passion for education was reaffirmed when he was named “Teacher of the Year” in December.

“I was incredibly surprised, honored and humbled because there are so many wonderful, dedicated and passionate teachers at my school,” O’Neill, a 30-year-old Cherry Hill native, said. “[This award] has made me want to redouble my efforts to improve my teaching each year so that I can try to live up to the award.”

To be selected for this award, a committee of former winners, administrators and other staff at Shawnee High School vote on teachers who they feel would be ideal candidates. O’Neill was nominated by two staff members prior to his selection, and one of their letters was read at the faculty meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 10, when he was given the award.

In the letter of nomination submitted by Chris Lorenz, the coordinator of the Social Studies Department, she wrote, “Eric O’Neill embodies all the qualities that a teacher of the year should possess. He epitomizes the term ‘lifelong learner’ and highly values education.”

She explained she believes he demonstrates superior subject matter knowledge every day, and does an outstanding job of teaching and connecting with students at all levels of instruction to help all achieve their full potential. Additionally, she noted in her experience, O’Neill, who is also the boys swim team head coach at Shawnee, has demonstrated he is always ready to jump in and lend assistance with anything the department or administration might need.

Although the social studies teacher was recently presented with the award, his selection as “Teacher of the Year” was first announced on Friday, Dec. 23 at one of the school’s two choral concerts held on the last half-day before winter break. O’Neill recalled being in the auditorium supervising his class that period, when Principal Matthew Campbell came on stage to publicly notify him of his selection.

As an additional surprise, O’Neill’s supervisor and assistant principal, Barb Fuoco, had called his wife, Carolyn, a math teacher at Delran Middle School, to tell her about the award and to invite her and other family members to come to the announcement.

“My wife, who is a middle school math teacher, was home sick with the flu at the time, and when she saw Shawnee High School on her caller ID, she thought I must have caught the flu from her and fell ill at school,” O’Neill said. “She managed to keep the secret for the week, and I was shocked to see her with our son, parents and other relatives when they came out from backstage at the announcement.”

While O’Neill chose not to speak after being recognized with this honor, he later forwarded an email to the Shawnee High School staff stating he was very honored, humbled and surprised to be named “Teacher of the Year.” He also explained he considers himself lucky to be able to work alongside such a dedicated staff.

“There are many deserving teachers out there, and many of you have helped me along the way. I’ve been grateful to work with all of you, and I look forward to many more years here with you. Thank you very much, and good luck with the rest of the semester,” his email concluded.

As a result of earning the title “Teacher of the Year,” O’Neill will now join the committee of former winners to help decide future winners. Heading into the more immediate future, the educator also plans to fill out the paperwork necessary and to write several essays enabling him to apply for the Lenape Regional High School District’s “District Teacher of the Year” and for the Burlington County “Teacher of the Year” awards. He also plans to attend a luncheon in April for all Burlington County “Teacher of the Year” winners.

“I’m not sure I can think of a goal higher than receiving ‘Teacher of the Year,’ but my general goal is that students walk out of my classroom everyday having learned at least one interesting thing that made an impression on them that will stick with them beyond that day,” O’Neill said.