Sunday Profile: The challenge keeps Tim McNulty going
Coal Ridge English teacher Tim McNulty takes home Locals Choice gold as the top teacher in Garfield County
If his personality doesn’t light up the room, the colorful traditional kilts Tim McNulty wears everyday will.
“My grandfather was born in Ireland, my father was born on the boat coming over from Ireland,” McNulty said.
“I’ve just been wearing a kilt all my life, but I had never worn a Kilt 24/7 until 25 years ago.”
It all started when he blew his knee out fishing and had to have it replaced. Following surgery, he struggled to wear pants and decided to wear one of his kilts.
“It just took off from there, and now if I show up to school in gym shorts, it’s like wildfire throughout the whole school people asking what’s wrong with me,” McNulty said.
His wardrobe consists of two pairs of pants, one dress pair and one pair of blue jeans, and the rest are kilts.
McNulty jokes that his wife says he has one too many kilts, but by his count, he only has 14.
Just over halfway through his second year at Coal Ridge High School, the English and ELD (English Language Development) teacher has made a pretty big impact in the Garfield School District Re-2 — big enough that he was named a finalist in the 2020 Locals’ Choice awards.
“I had no idea I was a finalist, I came into school on a Monday and the assistant principal walked in and said congratulations you’re a finalist,” McNulty said. “I said for what, I thought maybe there was a contest going on in school I could maybe win a candy bar.”
McNulty was then told he was a finalist for the best teacher and that’s when the shock set in. He called his wife to see if she had anything to do with it and she didn’t know either.
“The big thing with Tim, he is a community teacher. He is at all the events that our kids have, he is very supportive and has built tremendous relationships with students at our school,” Coal Ridge Assistant Principal Michael Mikalakis said.
Being voted the best teacher is an amazing and humbling experience for Mr. McNulty, especially as he nears the end of his career.
“This is my second to last year teaching, I’m going to finish out this school year and I have one more year then I figure that’s going to be it,” McNulty said. “You’re at the end of your career, you’re getting ready to retire, and somebody says you’re the best teacher we’ve ever had. That is super, just makes me feel extremely fabulous. I’ll go out and have a cigar.”
A SUDDEN CHANGE OF HEART
Born and raised in Chicago, teaching wasn’t the first career for the 69-year-old New Castle resident — after graduating college he spent 25 years in the insurance industry.
“I said this really stinks, I’m killing myself, I want to do something else so I went back to school to earn a teaching certificate,” McNulty said.
He continued his education and received his master’s degree.
“I just love to read, I love to write, It’s like second nature,” McNulty said.
For McNulty, there wasn’t one big moment that made him want to become a teacher.
“It was a long process, there was about 5 years after I left the insurance industry before he went into teaching. “During that period of time I asked myself what I would really like to do, when I grow up,” McNulty said as he laughed as he commented he hasn’t reached that point yet.
McNulty decided high school was the right fit, after teaching middle school for a year.
With their children grown and feeling the overcrowding in Chicago, McNulty and his wife Mary Lou decided to head west for the open spaces of Colorado.
Mary Lou loves to ski and he loves to fly-fish, which led them to look near Glenwood Springs, not far from Snowmass, Mary Lou’s skiing spot.
They found a home in New Castle and Mr. McNulty landed a job teaching English at Basalt High School, where he taught for 16 years.
“In Chicago to go 5 miles it would take me close to an hour on the expressway. Here when I was teaching in Basalt, which is 36 miles from my home in New Castle, it took me just over 45 minutes,” McNulty said.
FOR THE LOVE OF READING
In his nearly 22 years as a teacher McNulty still has the drive to share his passion and find the challenge of getting students to participate.
“Most students don’t like to read, it is a challenge each and every day. How do I make it interesting to them, how do I bring it to life,” he said.
Over two decades of teaching, McNulty has honed his teaching to break things down as he reads with his students. “I like interacting, I form relationships with people. Probably the most important thing you can do besides teaching, is forming relationships with people,” McNulty said.
He has found the better relationship he has with students, the better chance he has of getting them to apply themselves in class.
“He is a genuine man, very intelligent, and I’m glad we were able to find him a home here toward the end of his career,” Mikalakis said. “This is a good spot for him and he has done really great things, he has definitely made an impact on our kids and our teachers.”
McNulty calls himself unashamedly old school — he still hand writes all his grades, and isn’t much for computers to help him with his planning and grading.
As he nears retirement McNulty says teaching keeps him young, keeps him thinking and keeps his mind working.
“I’m thinking during lunch, what I’m going to do in the seventh period. Even though I have it planned out, I’m still thinking how I can make it better,” McNulty said. “That’s what keep me going,”
The challenge of motivating his students brings him back everyday,
“That’s the challenge that keeps me thinking about what I’m supposed to be doing, what they are supposed to be learning, and how I go about making sure they understand and learn something. I sit down after each class and each day and ask myself what did I do well and what could I have done better,” McNulty said.
“I do that reflection process everyday.”
PLANS FOR RETIREMENT
The self-professed book lover also enjoys fly-fishing, and traveling, which he plans to do when he retires after next year.
When he is not working or lesson planning, he spends most of his time on the Frying Pan river fishing, and when the fish aren’t biting he will sit on the river bank and read a good book to pass the time.
He and his wife plan to travel a lot more as well. They are eyeing a cruise from Seattle to Alaska, and then drive back to Colorado, enjoying the Alaskan wilderness along the way.
Another trip to Ireland is in the works. McNulty said they spent two weeks there the last trip and still didn’t see everything they wanted to.
As his teaching days come to close he can imagine when he teaches he does retire he will probably find himself jumping into his car to make the trip to school on the first day of school.
And as far as winning the top teacher for Locals Choice, “This is a great accomplishment, I think every teacher should have a moment like this,” McNulty said,
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