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Matthew Bernstein

October 12, 2022

2023 Maine Teacher of the Year

I’m feeling proud for our teaching profession as I reflect on the 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year announcement ceremony held at Casco Bay High School in Portland. I’m sure if you have a chance to meet Matt you’ll feel proud as well, knowing that this young teacher will be representing Maine educators during 2023. The ceremony at the school announcing the teacher of the year is a formality that has barely changed and I am lucky to have attended all but a handful, since 1995. A similar scene is repeated year after year: the room gradually fills with administration, school and district staff, funders, representatives from the media, muckety-mucks, and out of town guests. The speakers are seated at the front near a podium with a microphone. The most important people file in last in a somewhat orderly fashion, students and their teachers. We know that high school teachers can blend in with students but on this day the teachers were recognizable because they dressed in blue shirts with ties partially knotted to honor one of their own colleagues, grade 9 humanities and social studies teacher Matt Bernstein. The energy level and the pride was evident throughout the room. Everyone was very attentive throughout the ceremony.

Two parts of the day brought me to tears. Matt was nominated for the award by a former student, Yusur Jasim. While a student of Matt’s he spent a lot of time in Matt’s classroom and decided to be a teacher because of the compassion and support he received. When Yusur spoke to describe Matt I could see the faces of the students understanding because he had impacted them in similar ways. The 2022 Maine Teacher of the Year, Kelsey Stoyanova who teaches at Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden, gave an engaging speech that not only highlighted the honor and role Matt will have during his year as teacher of the year but pointed the light directly onto the students. She was on the teacher of the year visitation team and during a recent visit to Casco Bay she learned about Matt, his students, colleagues, and the school. Her shared observations and collections of words made it clear that Matt is a compassionate, caring teacher who provides a safe and nurturing true learner-centered classroom for every learner who walks through the doorway. In Kelsey’s words:

“Mr. Bernstein empowers you all to be teachers for yourselves and others. Mr. Bernstein empowers you to teach him because you are all worthy of being learned from. Mr. Bernstein would not be able to do that if he did not truly believe in each of you all individually to be the kind of humans you want to be, the kind of humans your school needs you to be, the kind of humans that contribute and add value to all the communities in which you reside – in and outside of the four walls of your classroom with Mr. Bernstein.

Not only in the words that Matt shared but his body language spoke volumes as he put his hands to his heart and formed a heart shape over and over. He shared that this recognition wouldn’t have been possible without his students and the teachers around him. Matt jokingly said that he steals a lot of ideas from his colleagues. Matt said: “When I come here, I feel like I’m home. I feel like I have family around me”.

Matt was named 2022 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year at the beginning of the year which automatically put him in the arena of being considered for the state teacher of the year. Unlike most other states, Maine’s program for recognizing teachers is a long and drawn out process lasting almost a year. It’s a process that has only slightly changed since 1995. The biggest differences are the recognition of county teachers, Educate Maine facilitating the program for the department of education, and the funders are plentiful. In reality, all supporting teachers.

Matt has a Bachelor of Arts in History with a European History concentration from Bowdoin College, where he was also a Bowdoin Teacher-Scholar. His pedagogy is centered around student voices and student activism. He believes that the purpose of education is to help students find their way of contributing to a more equitable world. Matt is also passionate about creating opportunities for students to experience joy and belonging at school daily, and, to that end, he believes in cultivating meaningful relationships with students, often through his work as a 9th grade crew advisor, that are grounded in deep listening and holistic support. Matt has served in many leadership capacities at Casco Bay and the Portland district and takes opportunities to deepen his knowledge and teaching practice. A teacher for 10 years, I’m certain that his future in education will continue to be filled with learning and teaching opportunities.

Along with Educate Maine and the Maine DOE, the other partners and funders include: Maine County Teachers of the Year, State Board of Education, Geiger, Hannaford, Bangor Savings Bank, Dead River Company, unum, Silvernail Family, and Maine Lottery.

If you’d like to learn more about the program please go to the Educate Maine website at https://www.mainetoy.org.

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