The thought of going back to second grade makes me nervous.
I enter the room. A long, horizontal bookshelf runs along the back wall. Kids sit at their desks, reading. On the far wall is a bulletin board. It proclaims, “10 Ways To Be A Better Reader,” followed by, “1. read 2. read 3. read,” and so on. The board is surrounded by students’ drawings, most notably a rendering of the”Sesame Street” character Grover, dressed in his “Super Grover” attire.
His name has earned the furry, blue monster a place as class mascot.
Beneath the bulletin board, Kevin Grover is seated at a table with two of his students. What stands out from his teacher-like outfit is a black tie with pink swirls.
“Hi, Hannah, glad you could make it,” he says, smiling. Right away, I feel more at ease. I take a place at the table and watch as Mr. Grover guides his little group through a read-aloud session.
I notice that he gives each student individual attention, gently prompting them to read with more expression or pronounce a difficult word again. When this happens, he writes a similar-sounding, more familiar word on a portable whiteboard. Once the student identifies the word, he replaces the familiar letters with those of the word in question. In this way, for instance, “fur” becomes “urge.” As Grover works, several other students approach him with various questions. Each time, he answers calmly, then returns to the task at hand.
A short time later, school is out for the day. Grover pulls up a rocking chair. As he watches me patiently from behind his glasses, I begin the interview.
He is the second of four children – he has two brothers, one younger and one older, and a younger sister – and grew up in Greene, just outside of Lewiston. As a result of his Catholic upbringing, he attended St. Joseph’s School in Lewiston from kindergarten through eighth grade. As a student, he was very introverted and obedient, and recalls being “devastated” whenever someone accused him of wrongdoing.
Throughout his high school years (at St. Dominic High School, also in Lewiston), he remained “quiet, reserved” and “didn’t really apply myself too much when it came to my studies or academics,” he says. He wasn’t particularly motivated by school until college, when he realized he wanted to teach.
Grover had always liked children and fondly recalls helping care for his younger sister. But, he says, “(I) never really saw myself as being steered that direction for a career.”
His defining moment came, however, during a Christmas fair in eighth grade. Students could choose to either wrap gifts or work at the school’s day care. So, because, as Grover puts it, “I cannot stand wrapping gifts. I cannot do it. I have no talent at wrapping,” he knew the day care was a shoo-in. The experience cemented in his mind that he wanted to teach.
To fulfill a community service requirement, he volunteered at a Head Start in Lewiston, where his cousin was a teacher. For Grover, the opportunity to work with underprivileged children was, “an unbelievable experience,” he says, where he marveled at how the teachers “treated them, respected them, included them … taught them.”
All of those experiences paid off, earning Grover the Maine Teacher of the Year award in 2010. He attended a gathering of national recipients, met with President Obama, and took part in a NASA Space Camp session. He also participated in a variety of conferences and workshops.
A former student of Grover’s says it is “certainly no wonder” that Grover received the award. He describes Grover as, “one of the most outstanding teachers I have had the opportunity to work with” because of his engaging style and willingness to ensure that each student could keep pace with the curriculum. He added, “I always admired the humor and innovative ideas he included in his lessons to make each day more memorable than the last.”
Another former student recalls Grover’s friendly nature and easygoing attitude. While other teachers might discipline students by withholding recess for an incomplete assignment, Grover held students responsible for their work, but never in this way. His favorite memory of Grover’s class was a disco-themed “class achievement party,” where Grover sported an Afro wig. Instruction also often involved “fun technology,” he says.
Following the completion of the new Falmouth Elementary School last summer, Grover teaches in a new environment. He has available to him an LCD projector, a document camera, and a sound-amplifying system. While in the past it was necessary for students to sit at the front of the classroom to see projected material, Grover now projects class work onto a Smartboard (a computerized whiteboard presented to him as Teacher of the Year) while students remain in their seats. This process has made lessons run much more smoothly.
Grover finds the Smartboard itself most suitable for math instruction. He says it allows him to better organize his lessons and more fully engage students with its interactive format. His students also have access to school-distributed iPads, which he implements in a variety of ways, including to further skills in math and reading. Skype is also useful: students take turns reading to loved ones.
Despite his innovative approach, Grover remains humble. When asked what keeps him motivated, Grover replies, “Every day is a new day in a classroom.” Admitting that he had never considered his significance as a male educator, he said, “I’m certainly hoping that if (men) see that it’s a great career and that men can do it, then they’ll be more apt to do it.”
For him, the biggest impact of the Teacher of the Year award has been the other teachers he met along the way. “It’s almost as if I could go to any state in the country and have someone’s couch to sleep on,” he says. The opportunity, he believes, has also made him a more “deliberate” and “vocal” teacher.
Clearly, he, too, has earned the right to be called “Super Grover.”
Hannah Gordon of Falmouth is a student at the University of Southern Maine. Her tribute to Kevin Grover was written earlier this year for a Feature Writing class. Grover, 40, died on Thanksgiving Day.
Kevin Grover, left, receives the 2010 Maine Teacher of the Year award from former Education Commissioner Susan Gendron in November 2009 at D.W. Lunt Elementary School in Falmouth.