Skip to main content
Success & Impact

Amy McGinley ’88 Named Phillies All-Star Teacher

Amy McGinley ’88, a Phillies All-Star Teacher, is retiring after 35 years as a teacher. The current state of education has left McGinley with mixed feelings about leaving the classroom behind.

Classroom interior with desks and a chalkboard. Amy McGinely `88 is set to leave the classroom behind, but challenges remain for the next generation of teachers.

Written by: A.J. Litchfield

Published: July 6, 2023

Total reading time: 5 minutes

Amy (Walter) McGinley ’88 enters the auditorium of the Penn Treaty School to students waving rally towels resplendent in the unmistakable red and white of the Philadelphia Phillies. The raucous cheers are reminiscent of a playoff game in Citizens Bank Park. This occasion is just as noteworthy; McGinley is capping off a 35-year-long teaching career with the honor of being named a Phillies All-Star Teacher.

The jubilant nature of this recognition stands in stark contrast to the current state of the profession that McGinley is leaving behind.

“It really is a challenging time to be a teacher,” she says. The data confirms this. At least 300,000 public-school teachers and other staff left the field between February 2020 and May 2022.

It is hard to hear about the reality of education from McGinley — someone who describes teaching as her life’s calling. It has not been an easy ride, especially of late, but McGinley is not letting that taint the entire journey.

“I have had so many great experiences, some bad ones, too, but you know, when you look back, you don't think about the bad. You only remember the good.”

This optimism, along with McGinley’s deep care for her students, is what makes her an all-star teacher — something that is sorely needed in a time of uncertainty in the classroom.

McGinley always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She officially started her journey to the head of the classroom when she changed majors her sophomore year at Saint Joseph’s University. That was when she finally felt at home.

McGinley gives credit for this sense of belonging to two SJU professors: Mary Applegate, professor emerita, and Skip Shannon, EdD, PhD.

McGinley recalls that Dr. Shannon specifically made her feel she had made the right choice in becoming a teacher.

“I remember it as if it was yesterday,” McGinley says. “Dr. Shannon said to us, think of the five most influential people in your life. One of them is a teacher. I always wanted to be one of those top five people for kids.”

When McGinley graduated from SJU in 1988, she felt well-equipped to make that impact.

“I was ready on day one,” McGinley states. “St. Joe's prepared me very well.”

In the beginning, the reality of being a teacher lived up to McGinley’s expectations.

“It was my classroom,” she says. “It was my domain, those were my kids and I was responsible for them. Education, at that time, was fun.”

The tides began to change when the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002. With the stroke of a pen, funding for public schools became heavily dependent upon test scores on standardized tests.

The result was a hyperfixation on instituting a curriculum that focused solely on preparing students for state testing, sometimes referred to as “teaching to the test.” And because a school’s funding was now tied to its students’ performance on these tests, administrators had renewed interest in the day-to-day happenings in the classroom.

Were teachers adequately preparing their students for the test, or were they a liability against the school’s funding? The only way to tell was to increase the frequency of observations. According to McGinley, this ushered in a culture of fear.

“There was always this threat,” she says. “If a principal or administrator walked into your room and you weren’t teaching exactly what you were supposed to be teaching, when you were supposed to be teaching it, you could get written up, disciplined or who knows what.”

Teachers started to become seen less as educators, and more as mere conduits for passable test scores. This decrease in respect for the profession was only made worse as education became a political football to be passed across the ideological aisle in debates that often had little to do with education itself.

Suffice it to say that teachers were already feeling burnt out when the COVID-19 pandemic rolled through and upended the profession entirely.

“COVID really did us in,” McGinley laments.

The politicization of the field worsened. The public health risks of COVID-19 thrust into the headlines issues of masks in schools and online learning versus in-person learning. The simultaneous societal unrest in the wake of the George Floyd murder raised questions of critical race theory and “wokeness.”

Despite a community’s political leanings, teachers became scapegoats who either did too much or too little to combat the aforementioned issues. The stress and trauma of this time is what has caused many teachers to leave the profession altogether.

Those who have stuck around are now faced with a new problem.

“The students are behind. Their skills are lacking,” says McGinley who has noticed her eighth graders struggling in topics they should have down pat. “But you can’t go back and teach them the skills they are missing. You have to stay on the curriculum.”

The academic struggles are to say nothing of the interpersonal skills that students have not had a chance to refine.

“A student in eighth grade would have gone through two years of curriculum and growth during the pandemic,” McGinley says. Students were required to be online when classes were being held virtually, but attendance was hard to track. Gauging if students were paying attention was even more of an obstacle. “Those are really formative years.”

Yet even as McGinley admits that the challenges facing education and teachers are multifaceted, complex and that no one has the answers — she exemplifies what makes her an all-star.

“As a teacher, you have to be flexible,” McGinley says. “Things are going to change at the drop of a hat. You need to alter it, you need to fix it, you need to do something to make it work.”

If you touch one life, then you've done your job,

Amy McGinley '88

Phillies All-Star Teacher, Amy McGinley '88, on what makes a successful teacher

Why does McGinley think this is such an integral part of being a successful teacher? Easy.

“If you touch one life, then you've done your job,” she concludes. “At the end of the day, it's just you and the kids. You just have to make sure that you're there for them and teaching them in the best way you can. And try to have fun while doing it.”