A Day with Maine Teacher of the Year Finalist Lacey Todd and Her Mountain Valley Middle School Community

Eat…or be eaten!

That was the activity listed on the whiteboard in Mrs. Lacey Todd’s fifth-grade science classroom at Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico. It was time to explore food chains, and the excitement among the students was electric.

The activity? Students were given packets of cards with different animals or edible items on them. Working in groups, they had to arrange the cards into mini food chains. What does an ant eat? Who would eat this log? What happens when the hawk and the eagle eat the same thing? Once their food chains were arranged, they were asked to explain their reasoning and the class got to go around and look at the other food chains. They were then asked to draw connections between their different food chains. What was similar about all the things at the top of their chains? What was similar about everything at the bottom of the food chain? What was different?

While the students energetically created their food chains, they were surrounded in their classroom by many animals appearing on the cards they were using. Mrs. Todd’s room is filled with tanks of fish, ocean creatures, lizards, and a bearded dragon named Pumpkin. At some point in the school year, there will be a chicken and they’ll all closely watch as chicks hatch out of eggs.

Last year, she brought her students on a trip to the ocean where they were able to explore the beauty and bounty of Maine’s coast. She came back from that trip with an idea to add a saltwater tank to her classroom so that she could bring the ocean to her students every day.

Mrs. Todd’s room is the perfect place to be a young scientist, and that’s exactly what she calls them. There’s even a bulletin board filled with diverse images of people exclaiming that they are scientists, underscoring that science is for everyone and Mrs. Todd’s class is a place where everyone belongs.

That sense of belonging comes up again and again during the visit to Mountain Valley. A parent said Mrs. Todd made school feel like home for her kids. A student said that once you are her student, you are family for life. A former student said that Mrs. Todd’s classroom felt like a second home. Another said that Mrs. Todd is the reason she feels proud of herself.

Lacey Todd is the 2023 Oxford County Teacher of the Year and a 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year finalist. Her colleagues, students, and community members make clear that she is the heart and soul of Mountain Valley Middle School.

Often the first to arrive and the last to leave, a colleague said that Mrs. Todd has an enthusiasm for every day of life, for the kids, and for the staff, that she makes connections with every student, and that students come to school because they know Mrs. Todd is there. She can be found greeting everyone as they arrive at school, and if you need it you can stop by “hug alley” for a loving embrace from Mrs. Todd to get you through the school day. She’ll even make sure you won’t miss your bus in the afternoon.

She also supports her colleagues and is a leader at the school. Staff come to her when they need help solving problems. One colleague said she changed them as an educator. Another said she teaches all of us. Someone else said that if you want to be an educator or stay in the profession, go see Lacey. Mrs. Todd has an incredible passion for teaching, for teaching science, and for always learning and growing.

That passion extends beyond the school walls, as Mrs. Todd strives to strengthen the connection between the school and community, engage parents, and champion Mountain Valley everywhere she goes.

When asked for a word to describe Mrs. Todd, some of the responses from her school community included inspiring, special, invested, nurturing, helpful, amazing, home, innovative, and dedicated.

All it takes is a day at Mountain Valley, and you too will feel like you are part Mrs. Todd’s family.

A Day with Maine Teacher of the Year Finalist Edith Berger and the Miller School Community

Miller School in Waldoboro greets people with joy from the instant you walk in. Colorful murals cover almost every hallway. Created by classes stretching back decades, these murals tell a story about generations of students and create a connection with students and educators walking the halls today on their way to lunch, recess, or the next class. Everyone greets you with a warm smile and there’s a feeling that this is a great place to learn.

If you arrive early enough, the sound of music may draw you into Mrs. Edith Berger’s classroom. She often plays music in the morning to set a good tone for the day and share the sounds with students and staff. Her classroom is just as colorful and joyful as the rest of the school, and it’s the room everyone goes to when they have a question, need help, want to bounce an idea off someone, want a snack, or just need someone to talk to. Students and other educators know Mrs. Berger’s class is a safe, supportive, and welcoming place for all. She makes every feel seen, heard, and appreciated.

Mrs. Berger is a sixth-grade writing and social studies teacher at Miller School, the 2023 Lincoln County Teacher of the Year, and a 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year Finalist. Her colleagues, students, and community members describe her as a role model, a quiet leader, inspiring, compassionate, dedicated, creative, and professional.

In today’s writing class, where everyone is referred to as a writer, students are given various mentor texts to examine what expression and reflection look like in essays, stories, and poems. The students analyze the texts and find the spots that show why the author wrote the piece. They share their thoughts in groups and then as a class, discussing what certain passages of the writing say about the author’s purpose and making connections to their own lives. Mrs. Berger engages with the different groups and poses questions to get them to engage more deeply with the texts and make connections.

If you close your eyes, you’d think you were in a high school class.

With the school year still so fresh, the students have just started to look at personal narratives from the perspective of purpose. They’ve examined why people write and explored ways that writers get in the zone to write. These writers are blossoming.

Later in the day comes social studies, and Mrs. Berger teaches a civics lesson connected to Constitution Day. Students are provided the preamble of the Constitution, which they read together last week and identified the portions that illustrate the functions of government as viewed by the framers of the Constitution. In this class, students are given examples of American civil life, such as a federal agency providing food for children or having marshals on planes, and are asked to connect those examples to the different functions of government. The students share their reasoning in groups and then as a class. Through this, Mrs. Berger gives the Constitution life and connects it to modern examples the students can identify with.

Mrs. Berger’s colleagues say that she honors everyone’s voice, and that practice becomes a model for students. They say that she meets kids where they are while having high expectations—and that those high expectations come with a high level of support. They say she doesn’t give up on any kid—she finds a way to reach them no matter what. That’s clear with any visit to her classroom.

Her colleagues also describe her as not just a teacher of children, but also of adults, saying “I would not be the principal I am without Edie, I became a better teacher by working with Edie, she’s the room I go to if I have questions or need help, and everyone is part of her classroom.”

There are stories of Mrs. Berger responding late at night to help another teacher struggling with a lesson plan, making handmade journals for students to use to help them cope with anxiety, coming back from a conference or event full of new ideas for her class and the school, always being on the cusp of what’s new, and always finding ways to grow.

What’s also evident is just how much Mrs. Berger is a fixture of the community. Whether it’s speaking at the library about civics, bringing in guest speakers for her class, going to community events, or promoting her school, she is constantly building bridges between Miller School and the rest of the community.

Edith Berger doesn’t just teach civics; she is a true citizen. She’s also Miller School’s guiding light and helps everyone in her school community shine.

A Day With Maine Teacher of the Year Finalist Joshua Chard’s Class

“We take care of everybody”

“Everyone is valued”

“People are kind”

Those are some of the things that Mr. Joshua Chard’s third-grade students want people to know about their school.

The Chardlings, as they’re affectionately called, go to school at East End Community School in Portland. East End is a diverse and welcoming school that sits on a hill overlooking the city and the water. Beyond extraordinary teachers, the school has its own garden with an outdoor classroom, a closet where students can get free clothes and other supplies, and a deep connection to the neighborhood and families as a community school.

Mr. Chard is one of four finalists for 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year and the 2023 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year. He was nominated by his principal and assistant principal. Colleagues say he builds relationships with every student, meets every student where they’re at, and finds joy in the uniqueness of each human.

It’s easy to see why people say that about him. On a recent morning visiting Mr. Chard’s class, he and his Chardlings were happily seated on a colorful carpet, passing around a stuffed bear and telling their visitors what’s great about their school.

Next, it was math time. With the learning target written on the board, Mr. Chard asked the class who could tell him the math learning target for the day. He called on people one by one until the entire class said in unison, “Let’s choose a scale for our bar graph!” The students were given a scenario to measure the different shapes found on a piece of paper in bar graph form. Instead of working alone, they joined groups to discuss the problem and give their reasoning for what scale they should use to measure the shapes. Today was not about getting the right answer but working through the problem together and defending their reasoning.



Later in the day, and after a snack, it was time for science. Mr. Chard and the students returned to their carpet to learn about Wabanaki history and rivers, using the Columbia River to compare to Maine’s Presumpscot River. Mr. Chard asked what the students had learned the day before, with almost every hand going up with excitement. The students talked about what they knew about the Wabanaki, the immigrants who arrived, and 20 million years since the Columbia River was first formed. But if we know the Columbia is 20 million years old, then how old would that make the Presumpscot? After lots of class discussion, the class collectively inferred that the Presumpscot must have been around the same age.

Then it was time for another of Mr. Chard’s “juicy” words—flora. Using cards with images of flora, Mr. Chard asked the class if they could tell us what flora meant. But why just talk about flora when you can experience flora? So, everyone took a card with an image of flora, and outside they all went to roam the perimeter of the school in search of flora that is often found near the banks of the Presumpscot River.

“That’s my flora!”

“I found it!”

“I think this is it!”

The Chardlings were enthusiastically committed to their mission to find their flora.

That’s just a bit of a glimpse into the engaging, project-based, immersive, and rigorous learning on display in Mr. Chard’s class.

When asked why he teaches, Mr. Chard said, “I teach because I stand tall on the shoulders of the teachers who lifted me up and saw my potential even when I couldn’t see it myself. I strive to be the teacher who lifts his students up in the same way, so that those students look back and say, ‘I stand tall on Mr. Chard’s shoulders.’ I can think of no better legacy than that.”

One of Mr. Chard’s fellow teachers talked about his magical formula that combines joy and fun with high expectations and his ability to meet the unique needs of every student. That was on full display on our wonderful day with the Chardlings.

Join the #LoveMaineSchools Movement!

The 2023 County Teachers of the Year cohort (CTOYs) want to share your amazing stories! During the 2023-2024 academic school year, the 2023 CTOYs will collect and share positive stories from Maine educators to elevate the teaching profession and connect with a variety of audiences. The group of teachers plan to showcase and distribute stories, images, and videos that capture the exceptional efforts of our magnificent Maine educators as they engage students in dynamic learning opportunities.

The group is trying to reach people across Maine,  any and everyone invested in Maine schools including teachers, parents, business partners, policymakers, and community members.

#LoveMaineSchools is the platform for educators to share their passion and spark conversations celebrating positive stories. A new monthly theme, intentionally broad and open to interpretation, will invite participation from all grade levels and content areas.  For instance, when the theme is “Making Connections,” submissions can effortlessly explore various aspects of creating links with individuals, families, communities, subject matter, content, and curriculum, among other possibilities. This flexible approach promotes active participation and allows diverse and imaginative interpretations of monthly themes. They want to hear from you and your school community!

As the hashtag #LoveMaineSchools gains momentum and reaches more people, they expect more teachers to share voices and stories.

Submit your stories at bit.ly/lovemaineschoolssubmit

You can see the positive messaging and stories the group has already begun sharing by following their Facebook and Instagram pages.

As part of their year of service in the Teacher of the Year Program, Maine’s State and County Teachers of the Year serve as advocates for teachers, students, and public education in Maine. They also receive ongoing professional learning and participate in many state and county leadership opportunities. For more information about the Maine Teacher of the Year program, visit the Maine Teacher of the Year website


Press Release: 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year State Finalists Announced

Four Maine teachers were announced today as the State Finalists for the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year program. Second-grade teacher Joshua Chard from Cumberland County, sixth-grade writing and social studies teacher Edith Berger from Lincoln County, fifth-grade science teacher Lacey Todd from Oxford County, and high school science teacher Colleen Maker from Washington County were all selected to move forward in the Teacher of the Year process and were chosen from the 2023 Maine County Teachers of the Year.

“Colleen, Edith, Joshua, and Lacey are all extraordinary educators who care deeply about their students, schools, and communities. They lift up everyone around them, are passionate about their profession, and are true champions of all students and schools in Maine. These four finalists represent the best qualities of Maine’s amazing educators, and I congratulate them on this very well-deserved honor,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin.

One of the four State Finalists will be named the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year, an honor awarded each year to one teacher in Maine. The announcement will be in October after the final stages of the selection process are complete. Maine’s Teacher of the Year serves as an advocate for the teaching profession, Maine schools, and students, and represents Maine in the National Teacher of the Year program.

A member of their community nominated each educator for their exemplary service in education and dedication to their students. They were selected by a distinguished panel of teachers, principals, and business community members from a pool of hundreds of other nominated teachers in their communities. The Maine Department of Education, Educate Maine, the Maine State Board of Education, and the Maine County and State Teacher of the Year Association made the announcement about the finalists.

“Maine is fortunate to have so many outstanding educators working to ensure that every learner has what they need to be successful,” said Dr. Jason Judd, Executive Director of Educate Maine. “These state finalists are great examples of all the dynamic and versatile teaching that happens each day in our Maine classrooms. Congratulations to them and their districts. We look forward to working with them as they continue their journey as teacher leaders and ambassadors for the profession.”

“Our teaching workforce drives the quality of our schools and education system here in Maine, and these state finalists exemplify the qualities we look for. They’re innovative, dedicated, and committed to ensuring all Maine learners receive a high quality and supportive education,” said Maine State Board of Education Chair Desjardins. “Congratulations to all!”

“Congratulations to these four wonderful teachers! The hard work, dedication, and love they put into all they do and the commitment they show to their communities, schools, and students is inspiring,” said Matt Bernstein, 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year.  “I am grateful to these four educators for representing the incredible work that happens in classrooms and schools all over Maine. I am tremendously proud of them. It is an honor to know them and learn from them.”

“Maine educators support their students, families, and communities with professionalism, compassion, and commitment,” said Heather Whitaker, 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year and President of the Maine County and State Teacher of the Year Association (MCSTOYA). “Our finalists, who come from all across the state, are leaders in this work. We look forward to learning from their expertise as we work together in our shared commitment to Maine public education.”

More information on the State Finalists and the Maine Teacher of the Year program:

Joshua Chard, East End Community School, Portland, 2023 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year

Joshua Chard
East End Community School, Portland
2023 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year

“Teachers across our state do amazing things in their classrooms every day. Being a finalist for Maine Teacher of the Year provides me with a platform to share and celebrate the incredible work happening in Portland Public Schools and in schools all across Maine. I am humbled and proud to stand among such amazing professionals.” 

2023 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year Joshua Chard is a second and third-grade looping teacher at East End Community School and the drama director at Deering High School in Portland, Maine. His approach to designing and implementing curriculum for young learners always starts through a culturally responsive lens. Joyful relationships are at the heart of everything Chard does in his classroom and he is inspired every day by the honor of lifting up and celebrating his diverse learners. Chard holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education with a concentration in theater from the University of Southern Maine, a Master of Science degree in Education with a K-6 Literacy focus from the University of New England, and a Certificate in K-6 Standards Based Mathematics from The American College of Education. He is also certified as a K-12 teacher of English to speakers of other languages. During his 31-year career, he has been an educational technician, has taught fourth and fifth grade, and has been an instructional coach with a focus on mathematics. Chard is proud to teach in two of the most culturally diverse schools north of Boston, having passionately dedicated his entire career to working in high-needs, urban schools, and he is excited to have a platform to share the amazing work that is happening there. Outside of school, Chard can be found participating in local theater as an actor and director and exploring Maine’s beaches and lighthouses with his husband and their grandsons.

Edith Berger
Miller School, Waldoboro
2023 Lincoln County Teacher of the Year  

“Being a part of the Maine County and State Teachers of the Year program is an opportunity to lift the voices and amplify the experiences of all teachers in Maine and beyond. My school, administration, colleagues, and district have supported me in my growth as a teacher leader and I owe the same to others in education no matter where they teach.”

Edith Berger is a teacher of writing and social studies in 6th grade at Miller School in Waldoboro, Maine, RSU 40. Berger has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with concentrations in art and architectural history and psychology from Ithaca College and a Masters of Education in Literacy: Writing and the Teaching of Writing from the University of Maine, Orono. She is the 2023 Lincoln County Teacher of the Year. A 2013 Fellow of the Maine Writing Project, her poetry and essays have been published in several anthologies. Berger considers mentoring her mission in life. She is especially passionate about using mentoring to help other teachers integrate civics into their classrooms. Berger feels that sharing excitement, knowledge and strengths with each other benefits teachers across all grade levels and content areas. By explicitly teaching and embedding the traits of good citizenship across the curriculum, she believes children will grow up to respect the rights and beliefs of others and contribute to a civil society. Whether presenting at an international literacy conference about teachers teaching teachers, mentoring new teachers and graduate students in their craft and leadership, or representing social studies in her district and state, Berger demonstrates her commitment to the profession of teaching as well as to the subject of social studies. When not at school or doing other “teachery” things, Berger can be found writing in a noisy coffee shop, reading history geek nonfiction or baking goodies she shouldn’t eat to satisfy her husband’s sweet tooth.

Lacey Todd, Mountain Valley Middle School, Mexico, 2023 Oxford County Teacher of the Year

Lacey Todd
Mountain Valley Middle School, Mexico
2023 Oxford County Teacher of the Year  

“The Teacher of the Year program has provided me with an opportunity to recognize and honor those who have supported my journey in education.  This award represents the hard work and dedication of my teaching team, who support and challenge me every day; my husband, who spends his evenings and weekends working in my classroom; and my parents, who made countless sacrifices to ensure my success as a first-generation college student.”

Lacey Todd is a fifth-grade science teacher at Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico, Maine. Todd earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Maine at Farmington, Master of Education in Inclusion Education and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Literacy K-12 from the University of New England, Education Specialist degree in Teacher Leadership from Walden University, and is a National Board Certified Teacher. Todd grew up in Oxford County, where she continues to live and teach, which is why she takes great pride in being named the 2023 Oxford County Teacher of the Year. Todd is a Maine Science Teachers Association board member, completed a three-year term on the Maine Professional Standards Board, and was selected as a mentor for the national Diversity in STEM Education Summit in 2020 and 2023. She is also a Next Generation Science eXemplar facilitator and advocates for the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards at all grade levels, especially elementary. Todd is a teacher leader in her district, serving on several committees, including Staff Council, Technology, Certification, and Contract Negotiation, and is a mentor for new and pre-service teachers. Todd is especially passionate about making science education engaging and accessible to all students and regularly seeks out professional learning opportunities that promote collaboration, authentic learning experiences, and inclusion. When she’s not teaching or tending to her menagerie of class pets, you can find her camping or exploring the Maine woods with her husband and their golden retriever, Ruby.

Colleen Maker, Washington Academy, East Machias, 2023 Washington County Teacher of the Year

Colleen Maker
Washington Academy, East Machias
2023 Washington County Teacher of the Year  

“It’s an honor to represent Washington Academy and Washington County in the Maine Teacher of the Year Program, and I’m thankful to my students, colleagues, administrators, community partners, family, and husband, Joshua, for fueling and nurturing my passion and love for teaching. Being part of a program that celebrates teachers across Maine is truly exciting, especially in a state where incredible things are unfolding in our classrooms and communities.”

Colleen Maker teaches biology and marine biology at Washington Academy in East Machias, Maine.  Maker has a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Maine at Machias. Maker is the 2023 Washington County Teacher of the Year. Maker’s pedagogy revolves around experiential learning and emphasizes student engagement through hands-on experiences and community partnerships. She integrates the curriculum with real-world applications, fostering lifelong learners who are productive community members and responsible stewards of their environment. She creates student leadership opportunities by advising homeroom, student council, science club, and sustainability club. As a member of the Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee, she collaborates with colleagues to develop and implement initiatives that foster a safe and accepting environment for all. Her commitment to creating a sense of belonging is evident in her efforts to ensure everyone feels welcomed and valued.

Maker seeks opportunities to engage with other science educators and is a member of the Connected Learning Ecosystems cohort sponsored by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. She was the 2022 recipient of the prestigious University of Maine Volunteer Pen Award for her dedication to the Washington Academy Community Garden, which donates all produce to the Machias Food Pantry.  Maker is passionate about fighting food insecurity in her community and provides opportunities for students to volunteer by caring for the garden, participating in gleaning initiatives, and supporting personal care share drives. While not teaching, Maker cherishes time with her family camping, playing board games, reading, and exploring beaches.

The Maine Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year program is administered through a unique partnership with Educate Maine, the Maine County and State Teacher of the Year Association (MCSTOYA) and the Maine State Board of Education. Funding for the program is generously provided by Bangor Savings Bank, Dead River, Geiger, Hannaford, Maine Lottery, Pratt and Whitney, the Silvernail Family, and Unum.

For more information about the Maine County Teacher of the Year Program and to see a list of County Teachers of the Year, and Maine Teachers of the Year, visit http://www.mainetoy.org.