A conversation with the 2022 Maine Teacher of the Year, Kelsey Stoyanova

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Being an educator has never been harder than it is right now. During the pandemic, Maine teachers, support staff, and our higher education faculty and staff have done everything possible to keep students learning and safe. While Kelsey Stoyanova was named the 2022 Teacher of the Year, even she recognizes and has said that this year, “I am a voice, and I hope I can use my voice to say, ‘We are all Maine Teachers of the Year.’”

When Kelsey Stoyanova learned she was named the 2022 Maine Teacher of the Year she knew immediately how she wanted to spend her year: sharing stories. Stories about her students. Stories about education. Stories about our schools and how they impact our communities.

The idea of sharing stories originated when the 8th grade teacher at Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden started her journey through the Teacher of the Year nomination process. Now, she is working to tell stories on a state level and is inviting everyone to be part of education in Maine.

“Because of the pandemic, the schools have become closed places and people can’t really come into schools. People have started to feel disconnected, so I wanted to bring in the idea that we should be sharing stories. Stories empower us,” said Stoyanova.

With the platform of Teacher of the Year, Stoyanova is working to bridge the wedge created by the pandemic between educators and communities.

“As educators we want our students to feel they have a place in their communities. We have to have connections with people in our communities. Educators are doing the best they can to make those connections, but we haven’t been on field trips, we haven’t been able to go out in the community,” added Stoyanova.

Now Stoyanova is amplifying the great work being done around her, the work of her fellow colleagues and educators across the state, and the work of her students.

“What I’m doing is to say ‘look at what the amazing things are happening in classrooms around me.’ I am a voice, and I hope I can use my voice to say ‘we are all Maine Teachers of the Year.’ If I can be that voice now and encourage others to elevate their work, the community at large can see all the amazing things that are happening in our schools,” said Stoyanova.

The goal is more important now than ever, as public schools continue to bear the brunt of many of the pandemic frustrations around multiple issues, including safety protocols like masking. During an extremely difficult year Stoyanova believes educators must work to pull the positive out of each day, offering this advice:

I would say that from each day pull the positive and then the next day start there. And I think that it’s really easy for us to get into this tangle of everything that is coming at us and sometimes we just need to stop and say what can I take away from this day that made me smile that made me feel successful whatever the measure is for them on any given day.

I have a really good friend, Katie Jones, she’s a teacher as well, and was the 2018 Kennebec County Teacher of the Year. She had this wonderful quote that was, “let it be possible.” I would offer that as advice- things don’t seem like they are going well- let it be possible that it can go better. Things that seem like they will never end, let it be possible that they will. Let it all be possible and pick out the bright spot.

As all educators are, Stoyanova is humble. When asked why she believes she was chosen as Maine Teacher of the Year, she goes back to her students and their work in the classroom saying, “I have constantly been able to reflect on the idea that I give my students choice and voice in everything they do while still maintaining standards and curriculum. I really push hard to make them have choice and voice,” she said.

Beyond Kelsey’s story, hundreds of other educators, parents, and students submitted stories about educators in their lives who are making a difference. Here are just a handful of those stories of MEA members who deserve an extra special thank you.

Shirley Talbot, ESP, South School, Rockland, Seacoast EA

Shirley is loved by all. She is kind, generous, and a truly amazing person. She is there for our students, looks out for them all, and is someone they all feel safe going to. Shirley is hard working, dedicated, and an educator that any school would be honored to have.

Susan Andersen, Teacher of ELL, Portland Public Schools, Portland EA

Sue works tirelessly to reach the needs of all students while also advocating for safety and compliance with our district contract. She has calm voice and open door when needed to voice concerns. Sue is a constant in a sea of ever changing tides.

Jacqueline Stevens, Education Technician, Piscataquis Community High School, SAD 04 TA (GUILFORD)

Jackie is the most dedicated, diligent, and caring Ed Tech that I have had the privilege to work with over my 30+ years in special education. Jackie consistently puts her all into her work, and students genuinely love her. Jackie has also earned the respect of every teacher in our school because she challenges herself to continually learn along with her students. Through her modeling and support, Jackie instills confidence in her students to enable them to tackle challenging academic endeavors with success. Jackie is like a lovable, tireless, tenacious terrier that doesn’t give up on her students and won’t allow them to give up on themselves. She is an incredible Ed Tech with whom we are very honored to work.

Deb White, Social Studies Teacher, Orono Middle School, Orono EA

Mrs .White makes social studies interesting, fun, relevant, and real. Her class is what gets my eighth grader out of bed in the morning and is usually the answer to the ‘what was the best part of your day’ question at the family dinner table.

David McCormick, Custodian, Mt Ararat Middle School, Merrymeeting Employees Association

David McCormick has been a custodian for over 25 years. He has been a part of the middle school for so long that sometimes he seems invisible. With COVID, he has been seen and noticed at least three times a day on each floor for bathroom cleaning duties. He is faithful in cleaning all bathrooms, door handles, tables, and everything else above and beyond his regular custodial duties. Even with all his duties, David still finds time to talk with my students and find common interests with them. He shared an ice fishing documentary and tips on ice fishing all winter with my anxious kiddo. They talked about ponds, ice depths, fishing rods, and fish tales. My student established another “trusted adult” at this school because of Dave. His heartfelt experiences are often quietly expressed to students with special needs. To those that know Dave, he is all heart and deserves recognition for his love of students along with his abilities to singularly keep the school of over 600 students clean and maintained all day long.

Lenny Barden, Custodian, Cascade Brook School, Farmington, Mt. Blue EA

Lenny is always ready to help anyone in need of assistance. He just gets things done and is friendly and wants to do a good job, always.

Lenny works hard at school while also caring for his wife at home. Recently, Over the years if I stayed at work late to work on a project, Lenny always made sure I made it to my car safely. He watches out for all of us, especially the children. He is just an all-around good person who is always available to assist anyone in our school. We are all grateful to Lenny.

Matt Sanzone, Social Studies Teacher, Marshwood High School, Quampehegan EA

Matt has been one of the most prolific workers in our school. From teaching his own classes to being the lead negotiator on the teacher’s new contract. He has been tireless. The senior class appreciates him so much they asked that he give the senior address last school year.

Debra Thibodeau, Guidance Counselor, Georgetown Central School & South Bristol Elementary School, South Bristol TA

Debra Thibodeau always goes above and beyond for her students at both of the elementary schools she works at. Not only does she perform her duties as a school counselor, but she has initiated and helps to maintain school gardens throughout the school year and summers which give back to the communities in multiple ways. Mrs. Thibodeau runs an after-school archery program, photography club, brings students on hikes, fly fishing, and integrates nature into her social-emotional learning strategies. Mrs. Thibodeau continually takes graduate-level courses to better her teaching and self. She is a mentor, advocate, and is by far the best educator that I have met.

Jacquelyn Gill, Associate Professor, UMaine, AFUM

During the height of the pandemic, an associate professor at the UMaine School of Biology and Ecology and Climate Change Institute collected and catalogued 720 units of PPE contributed by labs from across the school in more than fifteen departments. The COVID PPE drive, which included gloves, masks, face shields, and Tyvek suits were deployed to area healthcare facilities when there were not enough supplies available to deal with the influx of patients.

Amy Fournier, Literacy Specialist, Lawrence Jr. High, SAD 49 TA (FAIRFIELD)

Mrs. Fournier is a truly exceptional teacher. She takes the time to find out a student’s interest and creates materials specifically to meet their needs. Amy organizes the activities for the honor roll students and has an activity for students that are working really hard. She is always there to offer help or provide encouragement for her fellow teachers.

Andrea Jordan, American Law & Trial, Brewer High School, Brewer EA

Ms. Jordan was very understanding when I was going through a hard time. Her class was always fun and interesting, and she interacted well with the class. I enjoyed the projects that we were given and the assignments that we had to do. She is fun and kind and just an amazing teacher all around who always pushed me to take harder classes.

Erica Farrar, 8th grade ELA and Social Studies teacher, Samuel L. Wagner Middle School, Winterport, EA 22

In Winterport, Mrs. Farrar is a staple. She is a phenomenal veteran teacher, colleague, and friend. She has spent the majority of her career teaching eighth-grade reading and writing, while also helping students navigate the tough transition to high school. She cares deeply for each student in her classroom and works hard to build positive, supportive relationships with them all. While the transition from middle school to high school is a difficult one, Mrs. Farrar has dedicated herself to making that transition as seamless, painless, and successful as possible. These relationships are so strong that students often come back to visit her at Wagner after they have moved on to high school and beyond.

During the last school year, Mrs. Farrar went from teaching in an in-person eighth-grade classroom to teaching completely online. This was a huge adjustment seeing as she continuously avoided using Google Docs prior to this year! Erica has worked incredibly hard to adapt to an entirely different platform for education, as many of us experienced. This remote position included three total grade levels at two different schools, and also required her to take on an additional subject area, one in which she had no previous teaching experience. At the start of the previous school year, she was responsible for teaching two different subjects to THREE different grade levels – sixth, seventh, and eighth. Mrs. Farrar had a wide variety of obstacles ahead of her. Yet, she faced these challenges head-on and worked tirelessly to adapt to her new responsibilities.

On behalf of her colleagues at Samuel L. Wagner Middle School, we would like to recognize Erica Farrar for her invaluable expertise, her eloquent leadership, and the endless support she shares with our school community. She is the kind of person and educator we all aspire to be!

Jason Mills, Athletic Director, Penquis Valley Schools, -SAD 41 EA (MILO)

We are a relatively small school and Mr. Mills has worked extremely hard to get us to have successful sports seasons. He does a great job as a gym teacher and coach to make sure we are COVID safe, but still have fun. Last school year, our middle school was hoping to have fall sports in 2020. Mr. Mills worked very hard for the middle schoolers to play soccer but in the end, they were not able to. This is just one example of Mr. Mills’ perseverance through the COVID pandemic. Mr. Mills is an all-around great guy who students, teachers, and parents all respect. He has done so much for our school and students in the time he has been here and deserves recognition for it.