Alana Margeson’s “Top Five” lessons as Maine’s Teacher of the Year

By Alana Margeson

As we kick off the new year, I cannot help but be especially reflective, given the profound impact of this year on my personal and professional life. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent my school, community and state as the 2012 Maine Teacher of the Year. When Shelly Moody, 2011 Maine Teacher of the Year, would tell me how much my life would change, I could not possibly have fathomed the depth and resonance of that statement. I would like to share the ways in which I have finally been able to conceptualize what the experience of being Teacher of the Year has meant. For the sake of brevity (I am an English teacher; I could write a dissertation here, folks), here is my Maine TOY ’12 “Top Five.”

5. Look up and remember the team. As a teacher, I am sometimes guilty of putting my head down and doing the work without looking around to realize the gifts, opportunities and even challenges of the collective team. A school is a complex place in which lessons in phonics and formulas are blended with lessons in empathy, leadership and humanity. To be most effective, the job we do cannot be done in isolation I know now more than ever that I care about my school and community and want to be a contributing member of a team that inspires me to be better each and every day.

4. The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum; this document is a guide, a beacon, a touchstone. I am grateful for the wisdom and guidance of my mentor, Dr. Janet Allen, who reminded me that strategies must be central in using CCSS. Students must know “how to, in order to.” The standards come to life and become meaningful only with the planning, practice and thoughtfulness of teachers. Through the Teacher of the Year experience, I have been able to see how CCSS can infuse classroom instruction simultaneously with complexity and creativity. I have learned firsthand from leaders in this work, such as Kentucky’s Teacher of the Year Kim Shearer and the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling. On the flip side, I have been mired at times in confusion and frustration, and I have even forgotten to take my own advice. Thank you to those who have reminded me that great teaching is at the “core of the Core.” Perspective and reliance on skillful teaching are crucial.

3. Nominate an outstanding educator you know for 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year. The process was rigorous, affirming and reflective. Over and over again, I have heard from nominees that, through the process, a clear view of purpose, philosophy and growth was created. For me, the process gave a unique opportunity for articulation of my journey as well as personal and professional goals for my future. In the words of my sagacious friend and colleague, Shelly Moody, “the journey is the reward.”  See www.maine.gov/doe/toy/ for more information.

2. My family has grown, and I am grateful. I have met and made connections with educators and leaders whom I hold in the highest regard. Teaching in Caribou, I knew that there were great teachers in my district and in my county. I have been taught by many of them myself. One of the greatest gifts of the Teacher of the Year experience is spending time in other teachers’ classrooms in Maine. I think of teachers I have met who foster a love of Latin, whose students explained why they “love” their teacher like a parent, whose community members poured out support and shared the impact the teacher has had on the entire community. I have made lifelong connections with outstanding educators in all 50 states and the U.S. territories—people who have diverse backgrounds and experiences as educators, yet all share the same profound passion for this profession. I feel a sense of kinship, but more prominent is a sense of hopefulness for the future of education.

1. Be mindful. In education, it is sometimes difficult to put together the lessons, meetings, professional development, conferences, etc., and see the impact of the full mosaic that is teaching. In our personal lives, it may be all too easy for the days and weeks to blend into years in which we ask “can I really be teaching his/her child” and “where did the years go”? This past year, I have been given an amazing opportunity to represent what is best about Maine education. There are moments when I managed to press “pause” and soak it in, and there are moments that I wish I could rewind. We never truly know what tomorrow will bring, in any capacity, so we must be aware of the gift of who we are and what we are able to accomplish as educators. I fondly think of the words of our 2010 Maine Teacher of the Year, the late Kevin Grover, as I part with this leg of my journey—life is indeed “all about the memories,” isn’t it?

Alana Margeson, an English teacher at Caribou High School, is Maine’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. She can be reached at amargeson@rsu39.org.

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