CUMBERLAND — A few minutes in the classrooms of Connie Russell and Christine Delrossi is all it takes to see that both women put a lot of heart and passion into their jobs, and get those qualities back in return from their students.
So it’s little wonder that the teachers at the Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School in School Administrative District 51, and Mt. Ararat High School in SAD 75 have been named 2018 teachers of the year in Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties, respectively.
Delrossi is Mt. Ararat’s second instructor in a row to receive the honor. Social studies teacher John Dever was named Sagadahoc County Teacher of the Year for 2017.
The Maine Teacher of the Year is a program of the Maine Department of Education administered by Educate Maine, a Portland-based education advocacy organization.
One of Maine’s 16 county teachers will go on to become the state’s teacher of the year. In a press release announcing those names May 10, Educate Maine reported receiving hundreds of nominations for the county honors.
The accolade comes with its fair share of work.
After teachers accepted the nominations in February, they had to write essays on their profession and procure letters of recommendation. The top county teachers must provide videos of their classes, and write reflections from those classes. The field will be shaved in June to eight semifinalists, who must make oral presentations and compile portfolios before the field is whittled to three.
But the process offers many opportunities for reflection on the profession that the day-to-day experience doesn’t always afford, and for connections made with the other county teachers and prior winners, who met at the Senator Inn in Augusta May 8-9.
Russell, who lives in Cumberland, has spent 26 years at Mabel I. Wilson and teaches second grade. She will continue with those students next year as their third-grade teacher.
Nominated by Ron Greco, a parent of one of Russell’s students from last year, she said in an interview May 11 that she was surprised by the honor.
“So often you’re grounded in what’s happening currently, so for a parent to think back to the impact that I’d had on his daughter from the year before was really touching,” Russell said. “I was thrilled to be nominated.”
She’s philosophical about undertaking the tasks before her.
“As teachers, we always have more to do than we have time for,” Russell said with a smile. “So you figure out how to do it.”
“The reflective piece of it is what’s so important, because we’re so busy day-to-day doing the work that we do, that you need to kind of stop and recognize what have been your successes, and what’s led to that,” as well as changes that could be made, she said.
Sally Loughlin, SAD 51’s director of academic services, called Russell “an outstanding teacher” and “a true teacher leader” in an April 6 letter of recommendation.
“Her positive impact on education extends far beyond the walls of her classroom,” Loughlin added.
Russell and her husband have two sons who graduated from Greely High School in 2014 and 2017.
Working with students, and the challenge of each day being different, are what have kept Russell in the field for nearly three decades.
“Kids are a puzzle you get to figure out,” she said. “The colleagues that I work with here are amazing; I’m very fortunate that it’s a team approach here.”
“I love what I do,” Russell added. “I love my job. … It’s fun to see what each day brings.”
Delrossi, who is chairwoman of Mt. Ararat’s Visual Arts department, teaches photography, drawing, Advanced Placement drawing, and painting. This is her sixth year at the school, following 16 years at Mt. Ararat Middle School.
“I really enjoy the kids; they really are passionate about art, and they keep me excited and informed too, about what’s going on with pop culture, ” Delrossi said in an interview May 10.
She considers herself primarily an illustrator, but recently embarked into the world of photography after a course at the Maine Media Workshop.
“I think I’m a better photo teacher than I am in the other areas, because I am new to it,” Delrossi said. “So I’m thinking the way the students are; I’m trying to figure out how to problem solve and get through all those details.”
Her students and colleagues, and the variety of materials she gets to use, have maintained her interest in the visual arts field.
“If I get bored with one thing, I can pull something else and learn,” she said. “So I’m learning along with them.”
Sophomore Anna Cox, one of Delrossi’s students, nominated her for the county teacher of the year.
“She always is very nice to everyone when we come in,” the teen said while finishing an art project in Delrossi’s studio. “She’s always cheery, and laughs a lot.”
Even when her students misbehave – like, for example, by stealing pens or covering statues in hot glue – Delrossi takes a gentle approach, Cox said.
Being nominated by a student makes the honor more special, said Delrossi, a Lisbon resident.
“It’s a big commitment, so it took a little bit of time,” she noted. “But I’m really glad I did it; it’s been wonderful, and I like connecting with (the other teachers).”
Connie Russell, a second-grade teacher at the Mabel I. Wilson School in Cumberland, has been named Cumberland County Teacher of the Year. Behind her is a gallery of her students’ artwork.
Christine Delrossi, a visual arts instructor at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, is Sagadahoc County Teacher of the Year. She was nominated by sophomore Anna Cox, right.