Meet Mary Bryant, Pre-K and Kindergarden Teacher at Ft. O’Brien School, aka, Wonderwoman.
I had already labeled Mary ‘Wonderwoman’ before we met for an interview at Ft. O’Brien Elementary School during an icy day in January. She achieved this status in my mind because she teaches Pre-K and Kindergarden in a single classroom, and I knew from my work that she somehow also found time to be a Teacher Leader in Guided Reading professional development. The maximum number of students in Pre-K and Kindergarden I could handle at one time is two, and that’s because they would occupy each other. Even if I ever tried to successfully teach both grades in a single classroom, I know I would bask in “me time” during all other hours, rather than dedicate time and exhaustive effort into sharing my learning and practices with others. After our interview, Mary was still ‘Wonderwoman’ to me, but for a simpler reason- because, I believe, she is simply wonderful.
I’m not alone in this belief. I interviewed Mary for a profile because the Ed Tech in her classroom, Kari Tremblay, reached out to me and advised me to do so. Kari shared:
“I am an Ed. Tech in Mary Bryant’s room at Fort O’Brien. She is the most amazing teacher I have ever met. She has taught me patience, good will and honesty. She has been my inspiration as she is an amazing teacher. She has a heart of gold and always wears her heart on her sleeve! I love my job and I enjoy every day going in and working in her classroom! I feel especially this year she needs to be recognized! She goes beyond and above her job! Her little’s love her and so do I!! Please recognize her for her soft heart, patience and determination as she will always be my hero and mentor! She is such an amazing teacher and deserves recognition!!”
Thank you, Kari, for your enthusiastic recommendation. And, ditto.
I shared Kari’s remarks with Mary and asked her why she believed Kari felt so strongly about her and her work. Mary got a little choked up and did what Mary would do, what educators all over this County would do. She told me how wonderful Kari is and how blessed she is to have her in her classroom. I interrupted Mary- “Can I just point out that I asked you why Kari feels this way about you, and you only told me about how great Kari is?” Mary deflected compliments and used them as opportunities to celebrate others. This is something I see or hear educators do often. I think it is sweet and I deeply appreciate it. It attests to Mary’s, and others’, selflessness and unwaivering belief that schools are communities and our colleagues help to sustain our work and support our students and collective progress. But I also want Mary, and other deflectors, to welcome opportunities to celebrate themselves. So I prodded Mary a little more: “But what makes you so amazing?”
“I’m a perfectionist and very hard on myself, and I’m just always doing. If something doesn’t go as planned, I beat myself up about it. We constantly reflect; every other sentence I’m reflecting on what I am saying. I should recognize that’s something I’m good at. I reflect often.”
My goodness, Mary, you still had to say “we.” But Mary was right. She told me about how Ft. O’Brien Elementary School is structured to encourage and support collective reflection and action, and how this began when they were labeled a “priority school.” Ft. O’Brien School has built in a rotating substitute every Monday, which enables every staff member to be on the Leadership Team. How wonderful it is that the folks at Ft. Obrien have designed, implemented and sustained a structure that recognizes and supports all as leaders. Because, at our core as educators, isn’t that who we are- leaders?
But this is about Mary, as hard as she worked to make it about others. And, I’ll admit, she wasn’t wrong when she wanted me to know, too, about her school and the people that support her success. They certainly should be celebrated. I hope I’ve done them justice.
As I run out of room for this profile, I’m just going to tell you why Mary is wonderful. I think you’ll find wonder/see your own wonderfulness in her history and work, too: “I’m starting my Masters in the Spring… I just love school. It’s not for the money, I love to learn, collaborate with other people, learn about what others are doing.” Mary grew up in Lubec, went to Lubec High School, has an Associates Degree in Business from Husson University. She worked for 15 years for Whitney Corporation, went back to school at the University of Maine at Machias (UMM), and got her teaching degree in Elementary Education. She substitute taught and student taught for two years in AOS 96 and then was a long term substitute at Ft. Obrien. The Pre-K/K position at Ft. O’Brien opened and she was asked to consider it. Mary remarked, “I was a little scared of Pre-K/K, but now I’ve been doing it for 5 years! Lower Elementary is where my heart is. I love this school, the family feel.”
Mary, I am still scared of Pre-K/K, but am so grateful you now are not. I smile with wonder and awe at your path, success, and humility and I appreciate that you aren’t done yet. I also smile to think of all the other Wonderwomen/men out there in Washington County, whose paths at some point intersect with yours, or are currently at one point on a similar path. Mary, and the Leadership Team at Ft. O’Brien, please make sure you celebrate what makes you amazing. And to all you Wonderwomen/men reading this, take time to consider what I asked Mary: “What makes you so amazing?” (And reach out and tell me so I may write a profile about you too. firstname.lastname@example.org)
This story was submitted by Sarah Woog, Executive Director of the Washington County Consortium as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel Paling at email@example.com.