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story.lead_photo.caption Julie Smith/News TribuneMeg McGhghy poses at Jefferson City High School, where she is an English teacher.

For Jefferson City High School English teacher Meg McGhghy, teaching is a joy — and so is life.

"I've made a choice in my life to wake up and be happy and do what I need to do and do it with laughter if I have to," she said. "Being able to get up and put a smile on your face and just say, 'Hey, I'm alive today, let's go,' that's one way you have to approach life."

McGhghy was honored last month as a McDonald's Outstanding Educator, an award that goes to teachers who "exhibit the ultimate dedication to their students and contribute to the improvement of education in our most challenging times," according to a news release.

Joy of teaching

One of McGhghy's favorite aspects of teaching is being with and connecting with the students.

"I think that building those relationships with my students and watching them grow as far as not just learners, but as young adults, I think that's my favorite part."

"What I love most about being a teacher is spending my day with a diverse group of young adults who bring their own uniqueness into my classroom. I love individuality," she added. "Our world would be a very boring place without it."

She also loves to see students completely engaged in what they're learning, to the point that, when the bell rings, she hears students exclaim, "Your class always goes by so fast!"

"That is the greatest feeling as a teacher," she said.

She especially enjoys teaching the writing units, particularly when the writing involves students analyzing a novel and relating it to their lives or the world.

McGhghy also loves to hear from former students. One student recently reached out, saying she had written about McGhghy in an essay for a college education class.

"She put me down as the teacher who made the difference and helped her decide what she was going to do for her career, and I thought that was pretty neat."

Like her student, McGhghy remembers an influential teacher who shaped who she is. The late John Artman taught a high school writing class in Keokuk, Iowa, and he challenged teenage McGhghy to "branch out" with her reading choices.

He introduced her to a book entitled "Death be not Proud" by John Gunther, a memoir that details the journey of a father with a son who had a brain tumor. McGhghy said it's her favorite book, and it's felt different as she's read it in each stage of life, as a teen, a mother and a grandmother.

"He was a very unique teacher for his time," McGhghy said of Artman.

He encouraged students to constantly have imagery in their minds while reading.

"No matter what type of book it was, he wanted you to experience it, not just read it," she said.

Artman has had an impact on McGhghy that went beyond high school.

"He was really influential in the things that I did as far as the type of teaching that I wanted to go into and the type of teacher that I've become," she said.

Changing direction

McGhghy got into teaching later in life. After obtaining a general studies degree from the University of Iowa, McGhghy worked as the aquatics director at the YMCA and as a middle and high school substitute teacher.

After working with her oldest son J.T., who struggled in school due to learning and language gaps that began to emerge in elementary school and middle school, she felt drawn to education.

"When I went back to school later in my life, I knew I wanted to be a teacher," she said. "I wish I would have done that when I got my first degree my first time."

McGhghy went to Kaplan University in Davenport, Iowa, for her master's degree in teaching and got her master's in English from Southern New Hampshire University.

She felt sure reading and language arts would be fields she would "be able to help kids the most."

"Because that was my ultimate goal, was to be able to work with kids and especially those who struggle," she added.

After graduating, McGhghy taught at the high school in Keokuk, Iowa, for 10 years. She later taught at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and is in her first year at Jefferson City High School. McGhghy lives with her husband in Osage Beach.

McGhghy went to high school with her husband, Rich, but didn't know him well at the time. In the mid-2000s, they met while working at the local YMCA and hit it off.

They have a blended family of six adult children. McGhghy said she is most proud of her children, and the "absolutely amazing adults they have become."

She loves to visit family and said the large family provides her with plenty of fun places to go.

In her free time, McGhghy can be found at the Lake of the Ozarks, watching the Kansas City Chiefs or St. Louis Cardinals, or outdoors with her dog, Bindi.

Going forward

As part of the McDonald's Outstanding Educator Award, McGhghy will receive a $100 gift card for use on her classroom, a coffee mug and McDonald's coupons to give to students who do outstanding things.

She plans to purchase academic and uplifting posters for her new classroom as well as some giveaway items to give to students who are helpers, "the ones that will actually kind of turn their chair around and help that next student when they know that I'm helping somebody else," she explained.

McGhghy said she's felt happy and welcomed in the Jefferson City School District.

"They have made everything just super easy for me to move right into, and it feels like home and for that I'm very happy."

She said she's had a great team of teachers at Thomas Jefferson and the high school to work with.

Regarding the award, McGhghy said, "I'm not sure why I received this, but I feel like every one of them deserves this."

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