Emily Robinson, a special education teacher at Vine Street School in Bangor, smiles when she sees the face of one of her students on the computer screen during a Zoom meeting. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

We’re living in largely unprecedented times. There have been an unprecedented number of unemployment claims in Maine and across the country. The federal government has approved unprecedented amounts of emergency spending. Even the use of the word unprecedented has been, well, unprecedented.

Now, there’s plenty of precedent for teachers stepping up to meet the evolving needs of their students. That’s something they do all the time. But there is also little doubt that the abrupt switch to remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic has created new challenges and demanded even more adaptation and creativity from educators across the country and here in Maine.

So the annual announcement of the Maine County Teachers of the Year comes at a fitting time. The 2020 list of deserving educators from around the state was announced last week by the Maine Department of Education and nonprofit Educate Maine.

The Androscoggin County teacher of the year is Nicole Sautter from the Philip W. Sugg Middle School in Lisbon. In Aroostook County, the recognition goes to Jocelyn Saucier of Fort Kent Community High School. Cumberland County’s teacher of the year in Cindy Soule from Riverton Elementary in Portland. Melissa Hoisington from Kingfield Elementary School is Franklin County’s teacher of the year. In Hancock County, Kathryn Meyer from Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor is teacher of the year. Lindsay Mahoney from Messalonskee Middle School in Oakland is Kennebec County’s teacher of the year. Alison Babb-Brott of St. George School is teacher of the year in Knox County. 

Heather Webster of Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro is the teacher of the year for Lincoln County, Tonya Prentice of Woodstock Elementary School for Oxford County, Kristy Dube of Bangor’s Fourteenth Street School for Penobscot County, Jessica Gregory of Piscataquis Community High School in Guildford for Piscataquis County, Bree Candland of Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham for Sagadahoc County, Jenny France of the Somerset Career and Technical Center in Skowhegan for Somerset County, Sara Pendleton of Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast for Waldo County, Debra Carver of Jonesport-Beals High School for Washington County and Robert Westerberg of York High School for York County.

Like school instruction for the past months, the ceremony recognizing these teachers happened remotely last Thursday. Educate Maine Executive Director Jason Judd reminded those watching that Teacher Appreciation Week was celebrated the week before.

“While we know that teachers are worthy of praise all year round, this year, Teacher Appreciation Week took on a whole new level of meaning. With little time to prepare, educators across Maine changed the way they deliver education to Maines’ 183,000 students,” Judd said. “Teachers are on the front lines of remote teaching and learning. They miss their students, yet they’re finding really creative ways to support students by posting videos, teaching lessons on Maine Public, placing phone calls to families of the students, delivering meals and coordinating learning activities. While we may have always applauded the great work of our educators, this year they deserve a standing ovation.”

That message was echoed by Gov. Janet Mills in a May 15 radio address about remote learning during the pandemic.

“I want to thank all Maine teachers for their continued devotion to our students even as, in many cases, you care for your own children at home. We will get through this,” Mills said. “In the meantime, you continue to guide your students through a very uncertain time, and inspire them and set them on the path to a bright future.”

The 16 county teachers of the year, and all teachers across Maine, deserve appreciation for the work they do — not just during the switch to remote learning, but throughout all school years.

This year, of course, is very different. And we’d like to suggest one addition to the teachers of the year list: a 17th teacher of the year recognition given statewide to all the parents who have taken on teaching duties, among many other responsibilities, during this time of remote learning and staying at home. Parents too deserve appreciation for their new roles in educating Maine’s young people.