The first Rose Garden ceremony of President Obama’s administration occurred this April 28 and honored Irish American Anthony Mullen, who was lauded as the 59th National Teacher of the Year for 2009. The National Teacher of the Year Program began in 1952 and is the oldest, most esteemed national program to honor excellence in teaching.
Mullen, who teaches ninth through twelfth grade special education at the ARCH school in Greenwich, Connecticut, has spent decades working in the public service sector. He served in the New York Police Department for twenty years and retired as a captain before he began working in schools. In an interview with Irish America, Mullen said, “My experiences in the NYPD helped shape my opinion about the importance of education to our society because the vast majority of young people arrested were high school dropouts or at-risk teenagers. I decided to change careers to help such teenagers. I wanted to be part of a profession that would enable me to be more proactive rather than reactive in the lives of young people.”
Mullen’s colleagues have long noted his ability to connect with students who have been failed by the system and that other teachers have given up on. He said, “I specifically choose to work with at-risk teenagers because they need me more than any other population of students. I have the experience to identify with their struggles and see value in their lives. The most rewarding aspect of my job is that I get to recover lost students.” Besides his work as a teacher, Mullen has been a coach and league director of his town’s baseball program for nearly two decades.
He entreats adults to reach out within their own communities as he has. “Today’s children live in very stressful times, and adults must volunteer their time and effort to help young people. Teenagers drop out of school because they feel disconnected with school, community, and too often their own family. High school students—especially at-risk students—crave positive adult role models and want real world experiences. No magical elixir exists to save at-risk high school students; only a small measure of compassion will rescue them. Internships save the teenagers I work with and they become contributing members of society rather than public wards. I encourage adults to contact high schools and offer internships to teenagers.”
Mullen’s mother was born in Glasgow. His paternal grandfather came to America from Co. Galway when he was about 19. Mullen said his grandfather “learned quickly that Irish immigrants were a good source for conscription and was returned to ‘the other side of the pond’ to fight in the First World War. My mother’s parents died during the Second World War, forcing her to come to America for a better life . . . when I was young, my parents stressed the importance of education as ‘something nobody can take away from you’ and hoped I would be the first in my family to earn a college education. My parents died when I was young, so they did not have the pleasure of seeing me fulfill their dream.”
As National Teacher of the Year, Mullen will be traveling full-time as a spokesperson for education.