Medomak Valley High School English teacher Heather Webster, of Wiscasset, is the 2020 Lincoln County Teacher of the Year.
The Maine Department of Education honored Webster and the teachers of the year from Maine’s other 15 counties in an announcement broadcast live on the department’s Facebook page May 14.
Webster, a teacher for 22 years, teaches ninth and 11th grade at the Waldoboro high school.
The county teachers of the year are now finalists for the title of 2021 Maine Teacher of the Year. The education advocacy organization Educate Maine administers the Maine Department of Education program.
Webster graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a bachelor’s degree in English. She didn’t start college with a teaching career in mind.
“Definitely not in college, I didn’t think I would become a teacher,” Webster said. “I come from a family of educators. I am certainly not a stranger to it, but I started my undergraduate years in a pre-vet program.”
As she looked for work after graduation, she found a job teaching on a conditional contract. “It just sort of worked out,” she said.
Twenty-two years later, Webster loves her job and appreciates the connections it enables.
“The relationships you get to build with students and colleagues are great and the networking opportunities are too, but the ones you get to build with students year after year are what make it special,” Webster said.
Webster has spent most of her career at MVHS. She taught for a few years at Madison Area Memorial High School in Somerset County before working as a long-term substitute in Thomaston and then joining the staff at MVHS.
Webster particularly enjoys teaching her creative writing class. “There is a lot of flexibility that allows students to write what they want,” she said.
In other classes, she always enjoys teaching the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee.
“Students really start to dig into that and even though it takes place in the South, which is about as far away from Maine as you can get, they start to see themselves and their communities in the novel and to make those connections,” Webster said.
Webster was excited to learn of her recognition as Lincoln County Teacher of the Year.
“It was a great feeling. I knew I was in the running since we have to write essays and submit letters of recommendation and go through a review process, but it was a great feeling,” Webster said.
She expressed gratitude for the teachers she had. “I always had great teachers,” she said. “A great teacher is a great teacher; it doesn’t matter what the subject is.”
Webster is active in extracurricular activities at MVHS. She is co-director of the school’s one-act play for the Maine Drama Festival, co-founder of the school’s writing center, and helps put out the online student literary magazine Voices of the Valley.
“It is more than just a literary magazine. We also include art and photos from students,” Webster said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Webster and teachers throughout the state to transition to distance learning.
“We are becoming familiar with it, but it is definitely not the way we want to be doing our jobs. There are students we are unable to reach, who have no internet, or if you call, you can only leave a message, or the family has a cellphone and the parent is at work during the day,” Webster said.
When not teaching, Webster enjoys horseback riding and participating in the Maine Writing Project. “I’ve always loved to read and write,” she said.
MVHS Principal Linda Pease had nominated Webster for the award the past two years. This year, Assistant Principal Tamra Philbrook submitted the nomination.
A panel of teachers, principals, and business leaders selects the county teachers of the year from a pool of hundreds of nominees in their communities, according to the Department of Education.
Pease, who worked with Webster in the MVHS English department for several years before becoming an administrator, wrote a recommendation letter in support of Webster’s nomination, highlighting her impact on MVHS.
Webster “performs the work of the profession with an ethical, thoughtful, organized, caring and conscientious demeanor,” Pease said in the letter.
Webster “brings compassion for and understanding of the needs of individual students in consideration of their academic abilities and their emotional health and well-being,” Pease added.
The 16 county teachers of the year will now prepare presentations for July. The field will be narrowed to three finalists before the 2021 Teacher of the Year is chosen.