Award-winning Yarmouth teacher Morgan Cuthbert savors ‘ah-ha’ moments

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YARMOUTH — It makes sense that Morgan Cuthbert was named Cumberland County Teacher of the Year last week.

“It’s natural and logical,” Frank Harrison Middle School Principal Bruce Brann said.

Cuthbert, a seventh-grade math and science teacher at Yarmouth’s middle school, was selected by the Maine Department of Education for the honor.

“He’s a top shelf teacher,” Brann said. “He’s a perfect choice for the profession.”

Cuthbert, a resident of Freeport, was one of 300 nominees from across the state and is now one of 15 finalists for Maine teacher of the year (there were no nominees from Piscataquis County). He said it’s an honor to have been chosen as the representative for Cumberland County, and credits the seven years he has taught in Yarmouth for helping him get to this point.

“You get the community aspect when you teach in Yarmouth,” Cuthbert, 39, said. “It’s a wonderful place to work.”

He was nominated for the award by a former student, Duncan Birkbeck, and Birkbeck’s mother, Rhonda Birkbeck. After accepting the nomination, Cuthbert had to write essays, submit his resume, and do an interview to move on in the competition.

Cuthbert has a master’s degree, as well as a Certificate of Advanced Study in educational leadership from the University of Southern Maine. He has taught in Cumberland, South Portland and England.

He said he likes teaching in Yarmouth because the administration and other teachers are very supportive of new ideas.

“You can be really innovative,” Cuthbert said. “You get to ask the question of what’s next and you get to challenge yourself.”

Brann said Cuthbert is “relentless” when it comes to bettering himself as a teacher.

“Morgan teaches year to year, and by that I mean he’s always learning,” he said. “He’s curious. That makes for a great middle-school teacher because as a result his students are curious.”

Cuthbert fuels his curiosity by taking students into the field for projects. When Duncan Birkbeck, who’s now in ninth grade, was in Cuthbert’s class, they collaborated with Dr. Brian Beal of the University of Maine at Machais to visit clam flats and do a study on invasive green crabs.

The students presented the project and ended up winning the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, which had a prize of $35,000 worth of technology. While the students were happy to win, Cuthbert said they also enjoyed the process.

“If you look at what makes science real, it’s about getting kids in the field and having them work with professionals,” he said. “With science it’s about relating everything back to real life, to their community if possible.”

Brann said Cuthbert understands the importance of hands-on learning.

“It’s beautiful because it connects student learning to something that’s real,” he said. “It’s engaging for kids.”

Cuthbert said he thinks Birkbeck nominated him because of the positive experience he had during the green crab study. He said learning moments such as that stick with kids and empower them.

“The middle school level for me is about making those connections with kids and letting them know I care about them,” Cuthbert said.

While winning the Samsung award was a great experience, Cuthbert said his favorite memories of teaching are smaller moments.

“Overall, my favorite teaching moments aren’t the big things,” he said. “… When a student is struggling and then they finally have that ‘ah-ha’ moment.”

Cuthbert said it’s important for students to know what they’re capable of achieving.

“When they finally break through and you see that smile because they really worked for that grade,” Cuthbert said. “It’s allowing the student to know they can do it.”

The next stage of the award process involves more essays and interviews, after which the finalists will be narrowed down to eight, and then three. The winner will announced at a surprise school assembly in the fall.

“I’m honored to be where I am and excited to see where this goes,” Cuthbert said.

Brann believes Cuthbert is a shoo-in for the award.

“I’d be very surprised and disappointed if he didn’t win teacher of the year,” Brann said. “It’s hard to believe there are 14 other teachers of Morgan’s caliber.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Morgan Cuthbert, of Frank Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, is the Cumberland County Teacher of the Year for 2016.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.