County Teachers of the Year Meet with Legislative Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs

The 2019 County Teachers of the Year and the 2020 State Teacher of the Year met with the Legislative Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs last week. An annual event of the Maine State Teacher of the Year Program, the educators spent over an hour discussing relevant topics from their region with Maine legislators.

Pictured above: Senator Rebecca Millett, Representative David McCrea, Representative Jan Dodge, Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year Shawn Rice, Representative Victoria Kornfield, Piscataquis County Teacher of the Year Bobbi Tardiff, Aroostook County Teacher of the Year Kim Barnes (back), Washington County Teacher of the Year Jeanna Carver (front), 2020 Teacher of the Year Heather Whitaker, Franklin County Teacher of the Year Rob Taylor (back), Penobscot County Teacher of the Year Tracy Deschaine (front), Kennebec County Teacher of the Year Emily Bowen, Somerset County Teacher of the Year Kathy Bertini, York County Teacher of the Year Ethel Atkinson, Representative Henry Ingwersen, and Representative Dick Farnsworth.

Prior to meeting with Committee members, the teachers had the opportunity to meet briefly with Commissioner Makin, Deputy Commissioner Dan Chuhta, and other representatives from the Maine DOE for an informal conversation about issues and successes in each of their regions.

Legislators began the meeting by expressing their gratitude to the teachers for the work they do and for making time to share their thoughts at the session. Representative Kornfeild told the teachers, “we have been anticipating this meeting all day!”

The first topic the committee members asked about is the teacher shortage that has impacted many areas of Maine, a topic that has also been widely discussed at the state level. The panel was ready and willing to share their take and provide advice on ways to recruit more educators, which included alternative certification pathways and early college options for students.

Topics discussed by the educators ranged from National Board Certification for educators to STEM opportunities, technology integration in the classroom, and earlier pathways to Career and Technical Education for students. By far the most talked about topic in the meeting was the need for more mental health supports for students at school.

The meeting ended with a group picture and much gratitude from both sides of the horseshoe for the opportunity to meet and talk about important education issues.

Some of the teachers shared their thoughts about the experience:

“Meeting with the Education & Cultural Affairs Committee allowed me the chance to share my hopes for attracting talented graduates into the profession of Maine educators. This powerful experience allowed me to be ‘heard’ and advocate for what’s best for our Maine students and those in the teaching profession.” – Kathy Bertini, Somerset County Teacher of the Year and Science Teacher at Madison Junior High School. 

“One of the best parts of the journey as a County Teacher of the Year are the opportunities to speak up and advocate for our profession, for our colleagues, and for our students.  Meeting with the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee provided an opportunity to use our teacher voices, to learn more about the influential leaders in our state, and personally thank them for advocating change in our educational system and the support they offer teachers in inspiring Maine’s future generations.” – Tracy Deschaine, Penobscot County Teacher of the Year and Orono Middle School Math and Science Teacher.

“The experience was inspiring and affirmed for me the power and importance of
educational advocacy at the state level. It also illustrated the fact that many of what we might see as our specific local needs echo concerns shared in communities across the state. While our experience represents an annual invitation for CTOYs to share our stories, the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee made an impassioned plea to encourage all educators to extend our advocacy beyond our own districts in order to advocate for all Maine students; Maine teachers have authentic voices that can positively
impact educational policy and benefit our students.” – Shawn Rice, 2019 Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year and Dept Head, Fine Arts at Edward Little High School

“A critical and empowering component of the Maine Teacher of the Year and Maine County Teacher of the Year program is mentoring and providing teacher leaders in the state of Maine with opportunities to advocate on behalf of public education. Over the past two weeks, the 2019 County Teacher of the Year cohort had the incredible opportunity to speak with both Senator King’s Senior Education Staff and the Maine Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. The collective experience and wisdom in this group is inspiring!” – Heather Whitaker, 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year, 2019 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year, and Gorham Middle School Alternative Education Teacher.

Maine to Join National #LoveTeaching Campaign February 14 – 21

The Maine Department of Education (DOE), along with the Maine Teacher of the Year (TOY) Program, and Maine State Teacher of the Year Association (MSTOYA), are joining the national #LoveTeaching campaign, a grassroots effort started by teachers in 2015 as an opportunity to celebrate teaching, leading, and learning in a way that unites and invigorates educators and those they inspire all around the world.

Every year, Valentine’s Day marks the beginning of a week-long conversation that aims to illuminate why teachers enter and remain in the field of education, offering a mindset shift from the seemingly singular focus on the challenges of the profession.

Starting on Friday, February 14 and continuing through February 21, 2020 educators across Maine are encouraged to participate by using the #LoveTeaching hashtag on social media to share why they love teaching, either through a story, a moment, a memory, a picture, a quote, or simply explaining why they love teaching in a sentence or phrase. Tag the Maine DOE at @mdoenews on Twitter and at @MaineDepartmentofEducation1 on Facebook so that we can share your teaching inspiration around our state!

As we transition from January into February, we would also like to support MSTOYA in their efforts to keep the momentum of January’s “Invite your Legislator to School” month going, by encouraging teachers who have not done so already, to invite their local legislator to their school.

The goal of “Invite Your Legislator to School Month” is to engage, enlighten, and inform policy makers from our local or state government by providing them with a better understanding of how their decisions affect learners and educators across the state of Maine. It is also a great opportunity to invigorate and inspire them by showing them the wonderful things that are happening in classrooms in Maine.

We know that everyone’s schedules are busy, so please consider scheduling a visit sometime in the near future, or anytime throughout the year that works best for your school and your guest(s). In the words of MSTOYA, “It’s more than a month; it’s a movement.”

Please visit the Maine State Teacher of the Year Association Website to get further guidance and resources that can support you in inviting and scheduling a visit with your local and state legislators.

For further information about the #LoveTeaching campaign, please visit and be on the lookout for another announcement from the Maine DOE to kick off the week.


Media Release: Ever Wonder How You Can Thank That Amazing Teacher? Nominate!

AUGUSTA – As part of the Maine Department of Education’s ongoing efforts to highlight Maine’s outstanding teachers, nominations are now open for the 2020 County Teachers of the Year and 2021 Teacher of the Year. Members of the public are encouraged to nominate educators who demonstrate a commitment to excellence and nurturing the achievement of all students.

Nominations can be made through the Maine Teacher of the Year Website starting today, January 3, 2020 and will be open through 5:00 pm on Feb. 3, 2020.

To be considered for the County and Maine Teacher of the Year award, a person must:

  • Hold the appropriate professional certification for their position
  • Be employed by a Maine public school
  • Be actively teaching students at least 50% of full-time at the time of nomination and during the year of recognition
  • Have been teaching for a minimum of five years – three of which are in Maine
  • Remain teaching in the County for which they are selected during year of recognition

The 2020 County Teachers of the Year serve as advocates for teachers, students, and the efforts underway in Maine’s public schools to prepare students for success in college, career and civic life. In addition, County Teachers of the Year will serve as advisors to the Department of Education and to a regional group of students who comprise the Student Cabinet and Student Advisory. The 2020 County Teacher of the Year cohort will be recognized at an event at the Hall of Flags in Maine State Capitol and at an end of the year Teacher of the Year Gala. They will also receive on-going professional learning in addition to other state and county level leadership opportunities.

Maine’s recently named 2020 Teacher of the Year, Heather Whitaker, an Alternative Education teacher at Gorham Middle School was selected from over 300 entries and included recognition as the 2019 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year. In addition to Whitaker, the other 2020 state finalists include Robert Taylor, a Mathematics and Science teacher at Spruce Mountain Middle School and 2019 Franklin County Teacher of the Year, and Tom Gray a Social Studies, English, and Gifted and Talented teacher at Camden Hills Regional High School and the 2019 Knox County Teacher of the Year.

The 2021 Maine Teacher of the Year will be selected from the 16 county honorees. The field will be narrowed to eight semi-finalists, and then three state finalists before the Maine Teacher of the Year is announced by Maine’s Education Commissioner at a surprise school assembly in the fall.

On behalf of, and in partnership with Maine Department of Education, the Maine Teacher of the Year program is administered by Educate Maine, a business-led organization whose mission is to champion college, career readiness, and increased education attainment. Funding is provided by Bangor Savings Bank, Dead River Co., Geiger, Hannaford, the Maine Lottery, and Unum, with support from the State Board of Education and the Maine State Teacher of the Year Association.

Through the generous support of Maine businesses, there is no cost to the local district when the Teacher of the Year is out of the classroom on their official duties, which includes travel throughout the state and nation, a week at NASA Space Camp, and a visit to the White House.

For more information about the Maine Teacher of the Year program, visit the Maine Teacher of the Year website.

Joe Hennessey, Maine 2019 Teacher of the Year: A Year in Review

An open letter written by Maine’s 2019 Teacher of the Year Joe Hennessey.

To my fellow colleagues, educators of all levels, and community members throughout the state:

What follows is an open letter to you which originates from a place of profound gratitude. It has been my sincere pleasure and honor to represent our profession and its schools as the 2019 Maine Teacher of the Year, and I hope that I have fulfilled that charge acceptably. Eighteen months ago, my principal nominated me for a recognition which many of our colleagues would have been unable to accept for any number of reasons or would have refused upon philosophical grounds. I think we can all agree that there is no single best teacher in our state, and unequivocally, I am only one piece of a larger whole in Guilford; no person works in a vacuum, and I find myself having been named Teacher of the Year precisely because the students, parents, community members, and staff members where I work put me in a position to succeed. Time and again, they have permitted me to broaden my intellectual horizons and to augment my pedagogy by taking risks, iterating, and refining. They have shown me great trust and support throughout my year of recognition, and I am not able to repay their kindness other than to offer my deepest thanks.

Despite my initial inner conflict, and throughout my personal doubts, I have sought to serve as an ambassador of public education in Maine on behalf of my students, their sending communities, my school, and various invested parties. I have endeavored to gather, to highlight, and to learn beyond the opportunities afforded to most of my colleagues, and my immediate task is to share these salient pieces with others. As I transition back into a regular classroom routine, I have thought about how to articulate these truths in a coherent manner to others. For the time being, I have grouped my thoughts into these three tasks from the outset of my year: What I have gathered, what I have highlighted, and I what I have learned.

The resources which I have been able to gather on behalf of myself and others over my year are numerous and profound.  On one front, my professional network has been expanded with 55 cohort colleagues, who are diverse and capable beyond my ability to express. On another front, I have also become aware of new paradigms, teacher/community leadership opportunities, centers for teaching excellence, and partners in education. It appears that we are all working in concert, whether we are aware of one another or not. The crux, to me, is how to harness these different pieces together so that we may all benefit from one another’s strengths, across grade levels and state lines. Perhaps a comprehensive, well-indexed database of resources? A dedicated center for teaching excellence in the geographic center of our state? New fellowships and networking opportunities for teachers? I do not know, but I am optimistic that some assortment of the above could be realized if we decide we want it.

In my written and spoken work, I have striven to highlight the challenges and assets of rural education in our state. I have written honestly about our challenges with chronic absenteeism, low literacy/functional illiteracy, progressive mental health education, and spare mental health infrastructure because I know how hard every school district is working to meet the needs of its students. I have also written and spoken about the wonderful additions to intellectual life Maine’s rural areas are making through interdisciplinary classes, project-based learning, multiple pathways via differentiation, and the essential time and space to think and grow which Maine’s rural students are afforded. Schools in the countryside are adaptable, responsive, and committed to being community centers– a notion that other portions of our country are not fortunate enough to possess at present. I remain convinced that rural schools are good places to be in the state of Maine, and that they themselves will be the determining factor in what the essential public service of the future will look like.

My reading, writing, speaking, and listening has taken me all over the world in the last twelve months. From California, to Washington, D.C., to Virginia, to New York, to Alabama, to Louisiana, and throughout our own state, I have seen what public education has to offer American society. In Germany and Switzerland, I have further observed the capacity and enthusiasm of young people from entirely disparate walks of life. And, what I have found in all of these places is an interconnected, interdependent, curious, compassionate, and ultimately fallible world. It is up to us to think critically, articulate ourselves well, and help students to learn to do the same, regardless of whether we agree with their eventual conclusions. In contemporary life as in the past, we are better as individuals and groups for having been exposed to diverse viewpoints. And, I will, in kind, treasure this travel for the rest of my life and incorporate those experiences back into my classroom through planned lessons, impromptu discussions, and further extrapolation which I cannot anticipate as of now.

More than anything, though, my time as the 2019 Maine Teacher of the Year has been affirming, and my mantra that we are all “thinking people” has been further impressed upon me. In Maine and beyond, we are all capable of great intellect and great thought, and our academic and technical education programs ought to reflect that premise. Education– formal and informal, primary or secondary or post-secondary– remains the path to self-betterment and community-betterment. And, in a time of social and political division, technological acceleration, and possibly increased alienation and distraction, it has been made clearer to me that we need all of Maine’s society to achieve what it is capable of achieving. Our collective progress depends upon the essential public service– public education– and we need to frame our discussions moving forward around that fact.

Learning from colleagues and organizations from coast to coast and continent to continent, it is more evident to me than before that our education system is whatever we make it and are willing to pursue. I am enchanted by learning and in awe of the art which education is able to evince in our society. In a manner of closing, I would equate James Weldon Johnson’s “Before a Painting” as metaphor for education writ large.

I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
He had created life and love and heart
On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

And over me the sense of beauty fell,
As music over a raptured listener to
The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
There falls the aureate glory filtered through
The windows in some old cathedral dim

Let us all look forward to taking the time and space we need to educate one another, educate ourselves, and remember the value of teaching and learning in Maine.


Joseph Hennessey
English Teacher– Piscataquis Community High School of Guilford, Maine
2018 Piscataquis County Teacher of the Year
2019 Maine Teacher of the Year

Media Release: State Finalists Announced for 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year

Three Maine teachers have been announced as State finalists for the 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year. The finalists were chosen from the 2019 Maine County Teachers of the Year honored earlier this year at the Hall of Flags.

The Maine Teacher of the Year program honors outstanding teachers who represent the thousands of excellent educators in Maine. Maine’s Teacher of the Year serves as an advocate for the teaching profession, education and students, and represents Maine in the National Teacher of the Year program.

Each educator was nominated by a member of their community 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.

State Finalists:

Heather WhitakerHeather Whitaker

Heather Whitaker is the alternative education teacher at Gorham Middle School and earlier this year she was named 2019 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year.

Passionate about combining learning opportunities with the needs of the community, she started her school’s garden, which donates over 800 pounds of produce for the local food pantry each year. She also was a founding member of the Gorham BackPack Program, which provides students in her community, experiencing chronic hunger, with food over the weekend. Her alternative education students are active volunteers for both programs.

Whitaker is an advocate for and experienced in using restorative practices and experiential learning. She believes in the power of relationships and that learning should be meaningful to students. Whenever possible, Whitaker takes students out of the classroom on educational field trips and gets them involved in community volunteering.

Whitaker holds a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Boston College and a Master of Science in Literacy from University of Southern Maine and has been teaching for 18 years.

Rob TaylorRob Taylor

Rob Taylor started teaching in 1989.  He has spent his entire 30 year career in Maine Regional School Unit 73, teaching secondary math and science, Advanced Placement Environmental Science and also served as district Gifted and Talented Coordinator. He recently transferred to a middle school science position at Spruce Mountain Middle School in Jay and earlier this year was named the 2019 Franklin County Teacher of the Year.  He is an educational leader, working to implement standards via the district curriculum committee and address Maine’s teacher shortfall through participation in the Maine Math and Science Teaching Excellence Collaborative.

Taylor believes that students need to “get outside and connect to nature’. His Envirothon teams have won nine Maine Envirothon championships and were 1st in Aquatics and 6th overall at the 2018 International Envirothon.  His current school projects include greenhouse and aquaculture systems that provide produce for local pantries, participation in an American Chestnut Foundation restoration project, a drinking water monitoring program, and school renewable energy solar panel and wind turbine projects.

Taylor received a Bachelor of Science in Biology/Secondary Education from the University of Maine at Farmington and a Master of Education degree from the University of Maine.

Tom GrayTom Gray

2019 Knox County Teacher of the Year, Tom teaches Social Studies, English, and Gifted and Talented at Camden Hills Regional High School (Five Town CSD).  He has been teaching for 21 years.

As the coordinator of the school’s Intercultural Program, he has developed direct connections with educators in partner schools around the world, from China, to France, to Morocco. These school-to-school partnerships offer opportunities for students to interact and collaborate with peers in other cultures to investigate real-world problems. By leveraging technology to transcend physical limitations he prepares his students to thrive as global citizens. Gray believes in the “transformational power of adventure” for students as a way to build into education an opportunity for kids to cope with the unknown so they can discover their own agency.

In the 2019-2020 school year, Tom will pioneer a new, district-wide initiative in Innovation Engineering, in partnership with the University of Maine.

Tom is a National Board Certified Teacher.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts from University of Delaware; Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Arts in History from the University of Maine; Graduate Certificate in Gifted and Talented Education at the University of Maine at Farmington; and is currently enrolled in the St. Joseph’s College Master of Science in Educational Leadership program.

One of these three teachers will be named the 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year, an honor awarded each year to one teacher in Maine. The announcement will be in October after a school site visit and final interview.

Maine Teacher of the Year is a program of the Maine Department of Education, administered by Educate Maine. For more information, visit