2020 Lincoln County Teacher of the Year Heather Webster, an English teacher at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, has advanced to become one of three finalists for the title of 2021 Maine Teacher of the Year.
Webster, of Wiscasset, received the county honor in May. Each year, a teacher of the year from each of the state’s 16 counties is selected, then the field is narrowed to three finalists before the state winner is chosen.
“Communicating with them, being able to work with like-minded educators, has been a great experience. Any one of the 16 county winners would have made a great teacher of the year,” Webster said.
The 16 county winners made presentations to a review panel at the University of Maine at Farmington in July.
“It was the first post-COVID event at the university,” Webster said. “We all wore masks and the audience was limited.” A few judges attended in person, while others attended remotely. “It was the first time all of the teachers had been able to meet,” Webster said.
Webster said that in a typical year, only half of the winners make speeches in July, but because COVID-19 shut down in-person instruction, judges could not visit classrooms during the spring, so all 16 county winners made speeches in July.
“I spoke on student engagement — the power of giving students choice and agency,” Webster said.
Webster said the next step for the three finalists involves classroom visits, with a final decision expected in late September.
Webster said the review panel will conduct classroom visits in accordance with school district guidelines and will also meet with teachers’ colleagues and community members over Zoom.
Webster said one of the most important aspects of teaching, for her, is building relationships. She enjoys working with freshman classes and helping to facilitate their transition from middle to high school.
“I’ve sort of become the freshman guru,” she said. “I’m not the only one doing it, but I’ve worked a lot recently helping the students to transition to high school.”
A writer, Webster participates in the Maine Writing Project through the University of Maine, which she describes as a chance to meet other writers and improve her teaching.
“I think it helps to be writing yourself if you are going to be teaching writing,” she said.
Participants in the project attend a weeklong writing retreat in Orono during the summer. The retreat moved online this year.
“It’s such a great support group of writers. It was sad we couldn’t do a retreat this summer, but we did a virtual retreat and in the past we had kind of lost touch during the school year, when we all get busy, and we are hoping to keep connected during this school year with Zoom,” Webster said.
County teachers of the year are nominated by administrators, parents, and staff members.
MVHS Principal Linda Pease nominated Webster in 2018 and 2019. This year, MVHS Assistant Principal Tamra Philbrook nominated Webster and Pease wrote a letter of recommendation.
The education advocacy organization Educate Maine administers the Maine Department of Education program.
A panel of teachers, principals, and business leaders selects the county teachers of the year from a pool of hundreds of nominees, according to the Department of Education.
Webster said the 2020 county winners participated in an online meeting with U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. “He is very interested in education and it was great for him to make the time to do that,” she said.
Webster, who is entering her 20th year teaching in Waldoboro, started her career as an ed tech in a Brunswick special education program.
“I was a college graduate with an English degree who didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “There were a lot of teachers in my family and it was suggested I get a job as an ed tech to see if I liked it.”
After two years in Brunswick she got married. She worked for Down East magazine in Rockport, at a bookstore in Skowhegan, and as an ed tech at a shelter in Skowhegan.
“A principal in Madison knew my mother from their time in Boothbay and she took a chance on me and offered me a conditional contract,” Webster said of her first teaching job.
Webster worked for two years in Somerset County before returning to the coast with her family. She was a long-term substitute in Thomaston before starting in Waldoboro.
During her time at MVHS, Webster has co-founded the school’s student-staffed writing center; co-directed the school’s one-act play for the Maine Drama Festival; started the school’s storybook theater, a drama program where students bring a book to life for elementary students; and helped put out the online student literary magazine Voices of the Valley.
A 1991 graduate of the University of Maine at Orono with a bachelor’s degree in English, Webster is pursuing a master’s degree in literacy with a concentration in writing and the teaching of writing at her alma mater.
Webster credits her husband, Phil, and her son, Russell, with making her a better teacher.
When not teaching, she loves reading, writing, scrapbooking, and horseback riding.
The other two finalists for Maine Teacher of the Year are Knox County’s Alison Babb-Brott, of St. George School, and Cumberland County’s Cindy Soule, of Gerald E. Talbot Community School in Portland.