When Cinnaminson High School teacher Nancy Mulville received the email notifying her that she was selected to be among this year’s Axalta All-Pro Teachers, she thought it was spam.
She skimmed the beginning of the message, assumed it was fake and forgot about it for a couple of days.
“Later that weekend, I looked at it again and I told my husband that I’m not even sure it’s real,” she said. “He started looking it up and he goes, ‘I don’t think it’s fake, Nancy. I think it’s a real award.’ I didn’t even know that I was nominated!”
Mulville was previously recognized by the high school she’s called home since November 2002, including being named Teacher of the Year in 2019. What makes Axalta All-Pro Teacher different is that it recognizes 10 peer- or student-nominated teachers from throughout the tri-state area.
The award is given through the Philadelphia Eagles, so it comes with perks like tickets to an Eagles home game, a personalized team jersey and $2,000 to use toward school supplies or STEM-related programming.
In fact, among the earliest bits of information Mulville gathered about the award she was secretly nominated for included finally figuring out who submitted her name for consideration — Jason Meile, the Cinnaminson High athletic director who had previously co-advised the Class of 2018 with her — and that the Axalta All-Pro Teacher award recognizes STEM educators.
While Mulville has been teaching since 1989, her career has included not only a variety of educator jobs at different schools but also a handful of non-teaching and part-time jobs, thanks to her experience in everything from mathematics to teaching computer classes for adults. Even now, her classes include computer programming, financial readiness, robotics and AP Computer Science. Mulville even advises a few extracurricular clubs, like Girls Who Code and the robotics team, the latter of which she helped establish.
“It all keeps me on my toes,” she laughed.
Teaching the kinds of subjects Mulville does usually attracts passionate, curious students, and the teacher finds she doesn’t have to do much to help them find enjoyment in the areas she loves to share.
“Usually, once you get them hooked by something they’re interested in, that helps them get excited about the subject,” she noted.
Mulville and other Cinnaminson teachers noticed a number of those inquisitive and engaged students are girls who become less likely to keep up with STEM classes as they progress from middle to high school. It’s a worrisome trend they’re attempting to combat with Girls Who Code, a middle- and high-school club that Mulville runs with Cinnaminson Middle School Computer Education Teacher Robert Spier. The program helps younger students get to know Mulville well enough that they’ll feel supported enough to keep pursuing traditionally male-dominated fields in high school, as well as understand all the classes available to them at Cinnaminson High.
Mulville took a couple of years off from teaching when she had her children, now 30 and almost 20. Even though it was only a year or two for each child, she always felt the pull to return to the classroom. And Mulville does credit being a mom for influencing how she teaches, especially in watching her own children grow and recognizing when it’s time to give high school students some space. Helping her children navigate life as adults drove home the importance of showing teenagers exactly why they’ll need to understand something as initially off-putting but wholly inevitable as fiscal responsibility.
“In the financial readiness class, I’ve gone through a lot of it with my own kids, so I use my own stories,” Mulville noted. “I tell them it’s literally the one class where everything you learn about here, you’ll have to deal with it later in life.”
She laughingly added: “And I was a math teacher, so I know what those teachers tell students about needing the Pythagorean theorem and quadratic formula.”
Even with a constellation of professional experience shaping her journey, Mulville said there is definitely something special about teaching at Cinnaminson High.
“Cinnaminson is great, it really is,” she enthused. “The faculty is just fantastic. The departments I’ve been in, math and business technology, they’ve always been willing to help and share and collaborate and come up with new ideas each year. And the kids are so nice: They’re polite, they’re thoughtful, they usually work hard.”
And some of those enthusiastic students might have helped Mulville determine how she’ll spend her $2,000 All-Pro Teacher award.
“I came across a drone when I was looking for something for the robotics team, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that would be so cool,’” she gushed. “I just asked my intro to programming kids today if they’d be interested, and their eyes lit up. So that’s one of the possibilities.”
If her students leave her classroom remembering one thing, though, Mulville hopes the lesson is a practical one that pays off decades later, even if it is a little less flashy and exciting than new classroom gadgets.
“My biggest thing is that they remember to start saving for retirement as soon as they get that first real job,” she said. “They have to promise me that.”