As an only child growing up surrounded by potato fields in beautiful Aroostook County, I dreamed of visiting faraway places. My mother subscribed to National Geographic, and PBS was one of the three channels that came in without adjusting the rabbit ears too much. These two resources fueled my imagination.
Thus, there were two places I decided I wanted to visit – the White House and Pompeii. At age nine, I made portraits of President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan with sequins, beads and the staple of all craft projects – elbow macaroni. About a month later, I received a glossy, 8×10 autographed photo of Ronald Reagan. It was as if the President himself had hand delivered the mail that day; I still remember the thrill of opening that envelope.
Last week, I opened another envelope from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Inside was a signed 8×10 photo, this time of myself with President Barack Obama. In April, all state and U.S. territory Teachers of the Year were invited to the White House as part of Washington Recognition Week for an unforgettable experience. I am grateful for the photograph, as the moment itself seems a bit fuzzy in my memory, blurred by swelling emotions that I still haven’t pinpointed. Yet, as overwhelming and meaningful as this experience was, I have been honored to visit the “homes,” or classrooms, of Maine teachers in the past month, and these visits have proven to be quite emotional as well.
The five semi-finalists for 2013 Maine Teacher of the Year represent a wide spectrum of subject areas and grades. As part of the semi-final process, teachers are visited in their schools by a review panel. It has been a profound experience to witness skillful, passionate teaching firsthand. I imagine that when one finds a piece of artwork that stirs something deep inside them, the effect is much the same, almost visceral. Additionally, professional peers of the candidate, administrators, students and community members meet with the review panel. Each site visit was uniquely emotional, as students communicated the lifelong lessons in humanity that their teacher had instilled and as parents’ voices trembled with emotion sharing the empathy, selflessness and talent of the teacher. I have heard, firsthand, these Maine teachers described as “life-savers,” “innovators,” “inspirations,” and yes, even “a goddess.” The last descriptor was given by a student, searching for the right words to describe his teacher. It was, as you can imagine, a priceless moment.
In 2008, a Newsweek article touched upon the status of education, 25 years after the publication of A Nation at Risk. The article read, “Schools are complex social enterprises; their success depends on thousands of daily personal interactions. They are, in the end, only as good as the people in them and the culture in which those people work.” If my observations are any indication of the caliber of educators in our state – and I believe that they are – then quality education is alive and well in the Dirigo state.
I have enthusiastically checked off “White House visit” from my childhood fantasy list. I still dream of Pompeii, but there are dream destinations in Maine that I would encourage us all to put on our “must-see” list: our schools.
Alana Margeson, an English teacher at Caribou High School, is Maine’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. She can be reached at email@example.com.