KINGFIELD – For many, January means stunted days and a return to normalcy after the holiday season, but for teachers in Maine, it also signals the opening of the Franklin County Teacher of the Year award nominations. This year has been especially challenging for teachers both outside and inside Maine, and those who have invested their time and resources in adapting their strategies to put students first have risen to the occasion with determination and ingenuity.
Winner of the 2020 Franklin County Teacher of the Year award Melissa Hoisington currently teaches at Kingfield Elementary School and has recognized significant obstacles while teaching during a pandemic.
“The students aren’t making the same progress as they normally would, because they’re not learning from one another. It’s harder to connect with them, from a teacher’s standpoint too,” said Hoisington.
The longevity of the pandemic has also affected both students and teachers. According to Hoisington, current students show a lack of learning from their education dramatically and abruptly changing in the spring of 2019 when schools initially shut down.
“There’s much more of a need to meet the students where they are, and so that makes meeting curriculum standards more challenging,” said Hoisington.
Maine Teacher of the Year for 2021, Cindy Soule, of Gerald E. Talbot School in Portland, has acknowledged the willingness for teachers to “meet the students where they are” as a strength of educators throughout the pandemic.
“Coming together to ensure they all have what they need at home, looking at students’ needs and assessing their emotional and mental well beings has been powerful. I’ve always known that I’m surrounded by hardworking individuals, but it’s been inspiring to see how we’ve banded together,” said Soule.
Education systems have engineered precautions to keep their students’ progress and safety at the forefront of their priorities. As a way to prevent any loss on the students’ part in the event of schools having to move fully remote again, teachers have had to incorporate remote learning into their in-person instruction methods to keep students familiar with the tactics and technology that would be the entirety of their schooling if schools move fully remote once more.
“We’re always trying to get ready to go remote. At any moment we have to be ready. In the fall, I was stressed about it. I didn’t think it would work and it just seemed like a challenge with all the technology, but I’ve relaxed into it over the year. It’s become to feel like normal.” said Hoisington.
Both Hoisington and Soule spoke to the importance of outdoor education as a strategy that’s been utilized as a prevention tool in schools during the pandemic. At Soule’s Gerald E. Talbot, each grade level was given their own outdoor learning space, complete with overturned Amato’s pizza sauce buckets serving as students’ seats.
“No one trained us for this kind of teaching,” said Soule. “We had to reimagine how to connect with our students, and I think we’ve succeeded despite everything.”
At Kingfield Elementary, Hoisington has also observed the benefits of outdoor teaching, which may remain as permanent improvements of the education system even after the pandemic subsides.
“Kids are really starting to grasp the learning. Things are going better than we thought here. What we are doing is working,” said Hoisington.
As nominations for the county teacher of the year open, though Hoisington doesn’t have a specific colleague in mind for nomination, she believes that the teacher who does win the award should be dedicated to going above and beyond for the students.
“It took a lot of work to just be here to normalize things for the students,” said Hoisington on what teachers should be recognized for in achieving this award. “We’ve all learned a lot through this year.”
Those wishing to nominate a teacher deserving of the award for their work and dedication to students in this year of the pandemic can do so at the link below: