Thomas McHugh starts each class with a question: Who wants to be smart?

"I tell them, 'Being smart is not who you are, it's what you do,'" McHugh, an English teacher at Century High School, said.

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People who are have a facility of accessing information, turning that information into knowledge and using that knowledge effectively, he said.

"We're in the business of making people smart, not making smart people," McHugh added.

McHugh, who typically teaches ninth-, 11th- and 12th-graders in Carroll County, was chosen on April 30 as Carroll County Public Schools' 2017 Teacher of the Year from a candidate pool of eight finalists. The finalists were announced at the end of March.

McHugh now moves on to the Maryland Teacher of the Year contest.

McHugh was 28 when he started teaching and is in his 27th year in the Carroll school system. He got into teaching a little later than most, he said.

"Initially I just got a degree in English and then I did what you can do with that … which was be a bartender," he said.

Century's Thomas McHugh named CCPS Teacher of the Year

Carroll County Public Schools' Teacher of the Year comes from Century High School this year. Thomas McHugh, an English teacher at the school, was chosen as the 2017 Teacher of the Year from a candidate pool of eight finalists. The finalists were announced at the end of March.

From there, he got into some management, but knew he didn't want to do that for the rest of his life, he said. McHugh went back to school and got a degree in education. He started as a long-term substitute at Westminster High school, where he went on to a full-time position for nine years.

He's been at Century High School for 16 years, and was one of the teachers who was there when the building opened.

"It's a great community, both inside and outside of the school," McHugh said.

Century Principal Troy Barnes has known McHugh since his start at the school. And while McHugh faced competition for the the award, Barnes said he wasn't surprised to hear McHugh was chosen to be Carroll's Teacher of the Year.

"I know how great of an instructor he is," Barnes said. "I know how strong Thom is, so it's not shocking that he would win."

McHugh has a passion for teaching English, not just a passion for English, Barnes said. McHugh's enthusiasm for the subject really translates well to the students, he added.

Barnes said McHugh has a way of getting information to students so that they understand it. It's not that he makes the information simpler, Barnes added, but rather he can find a way that students get it.

He's very "student centered," Barnes said.

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McHugh said he never thought he'd be a teacher. He was "that kid" in school who didn't focus and got into trouble. He was bored, he added.

But he had educators who saw through that behavior, McHugh said. They saw that underneath, "there was someone who liked to learn," he said.

Thomas McHugh teaches language arts at Century High School on May 1, 2017.
Thomas McHugh teaches language arts at Century High School on May 1, 2017. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

He was the first in his family to go to college, where he realized his love of learning.

"I just took as many courses as I could. I thought it was great," McHugh said.

McHugh was told there are two types of educators when he first started teaching: those who love kids, and those who love what they teach, he said. It wasn't until after he took a leave of absence he realized there's a third type that suits him better.

After his first four years, McHugh said he was burned out after having been involved in every aspect of the school he could be. The first few years are really difficult, McHugh said, and he never said no to anything.

McHugh decided he wanted to go back to school, and though he planned to resign, was talked into taking a leave of absence.

"I didn't think I was coming back," he said. "What I discovered in graduate school was that there was another [type of] successful teacher, and that was just those who love learning and love being around it."

He's been at it ever since, approaching three decades in the classroom.

For McHugh, winning Teacher of the Year has been a "humbling and surreal" experience. He'd been a finalist a few times before and was surprised to win the top spot in the county.

"I feel blessed to be in this county, at this school," McHugh said. "It's a special school and a special place."

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