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Mr. Hennessey Named TOY

October 24, 2018

Maine Teacher of the Year

I’ve been fortunate to attend many of the gatherings naming the Maine Teacher of the Year. I traveled to Piscataquis Community High School in the middle of October for the formal announcement of Joseph Hennessey, an English teacher. The school student body, teachers, and community are proud of Joe and excited about the next several months and what he will experience.

I’m sure you share in my pride of having a music educator representing educators during 2018. Kaitlin Young from Sedomocha School in Dover-Foxcroft continues being an amazing ambassador! In spite of her responsibilities out of the classroom she has continued to learn and grow as a teacher for her students and school community. The opportunity became clear as I listened to her during formal presentations at two conferences earlier this month.

The Maine Teacher of the Year represents all that is good and right in education – they are not THE best teacher but they are exemplary and provide their voice and represent educators in Maine and throughout the country during their “year” as Teacher of the Year.

I was very inspired by Mr. Hennessey’s “thank you” at the school assembly and have printed it below. You can read more in the Bangor Daily News article from October 13-14, 2018.

“This process began last February when I was notified of my nomination for the Piscataquis County Teacher of the Year, which was humbling in itself,” he said. “There are many talented people working very hard in this part of the state who never received that recognition, and there was much for me to process as a result.

“By the time I was selected as the 2018 Piscataquis County Teacher of the Year I had written four essays expounding the virtues of my colleagues, the commitment of our community to its young people, and the tremendous efforts of my students to better themselves through close writing and critical thinking.

“I had also solicited numerous letters of recommendation from colleagues, community members and students on my behalf. All of which further introduced the selection committee to what makes our community strong in the face of often adverse circumstances. Life in rural America can be hard, but evidently you are all people who choose to rise to those challenges as they come.”

Hennessey said as a semifinalist, “I had offered the committee a window into my classroom where your efforts were on display and I acted as a guide. It was nothing more or less than what we undertake every day and every class period across every subject, and as a result of that window I was able to give a presentation at the University of Maine which discussed chronic absenteeism and highlighted some of the programs this school offers to try address that issue.

“Whether it is offering after-school RTI or giving students rides home, partnering with Tri-County Technical Center to help students position themselves for career success, or implementing a student success team or academic council, my message was the adults here are committed to your individual and collective success. Apparently the selection committee was moved by our situation.

“By the time I was selected as a finalist for the Maine Teacher of the Year, the selection committee wanted to visit our school to better understand what it is about this community that places someone like me in a position to succeed. Furthermore I interviewed with various stakeholders at the department of education to express my views on education, my philosophical tenets, and my personal and professional commitments, all of which are informed by working with all of you every day. We live and we learn together.

“Today after all of the reading and the writing, the speaking, and the reflecting, I find myself named as the 2019 Maine Teacher of the Year as an English literature teacher from Piscataquis Community High School in Guilford, Maine. It is an honor that I will cherish for the rest of my career and beyond. But I cannot overemphasize that I am in this position of distinction because of this community. Thus I think the question of what makes this community special is an ongoing point of reflection. What does this recognition mean for us now, and what does it mean for the future?

“Over the coming year I will have the ability to share with others what we have to offer and vice-versa. So what are the things that make us most proud; what barriers to access and success frustrate us the most; and how is it that people coming from six different towns representing a physical area bigger than downtown Portland are able to come together to create a community where everyone is welcome, supported, and feels as though their opinions and actions matter? Those are some of the tasks that we have before us, and I am honored and humbled to have this opportunity to articulate to others through this platform.

“In closing I would like to thank all of you, my colleagues, community members, the selection committee and most of all the students for taking a chance on someone from away. Though you had every right to be skeptical of me because I am a person from a different part of the country, instead you chose to welcome me, my monotone voice, my limited facial expressions, my scribbled handwriting and my dry sense of humor into your community with open arms. I am very glad that you did.”

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