TOPSHAM — Hearing John Dever explain the greatest rewards and challenges of his job makes it clear why he was recently named Sagadahoc County Teacher of the Year.
The greatest reward is when former students come back to visit his Mt. Ararat High School classroom and relate to the social studies teacher something they learned from him that they could apply after graduating. In an interview May 17, Dever told of a student who joined the military and was deployed to Afghanistan three times.
“We kept in touch; I sent him care packages when I could,” the Bath resident said. “It’s nice to keep in touch with him and to know that I’m still someone that has a place in his life, and he has a place in my life. That what it’s all about, really.”
The most challenging aspect of teaching is witnessing the roadblocks some of his students face, and trying to ensure they get what they need to meet the same standards as students with fewer burdens or barriers.
“There are limits to what we can do, sometimes, to help kids with a personal challenge, and we try to make (the school) part of their life more manageable,” Dever said. “The part where they’re outside of school, there are things obviously that are outside our control, and sometimes unfortunately outside of the kid’s control, or their family’s control.”
“That’s the difficult thing,” he said. “When you go home, and you worry about the kids,” he added.
Dever, who is married and has two children, this year is teaching four sections of U.S. history and one section of advanced placement European history. He joined the Mt. Ararat staff in 2000, following stints at a juvenile lockup facility, as an actor at the historical Plimouth Plantation, and as an assistant teacher at an alternative high school.
Sophomore Hayden Libby, one of Dever’s AP European History students, nominated him for county teacher of the year.
“That to me is one of the greatest things about this whole process,” Dever said May 17, noting that since nominations tend to be made by peers, “it was special to be nominated by a student.”
It can be difficult on a daily basis to see the effect a teacher is having, Dever said. “So it’s been a great opportunity for me to hear from folks who say ‘hey, great job,’ and ‘here’s this story I remember about you,’ or, here’s something that I might have done to help a kid a little bit. … It keeps you going.”
A weeding-out process occurs between now and October, when the state teacher is named. The pool of 16 county teachers, honored in Augusta on May 11, will next month be reduced to eight teachers, who conduct oral presentations in August and compile portfolios. In the meantime, Dever has had to film and upload videos of his classes, write reflections from those classes, and get another recommendation.
“It’s a pretty rigorous process,” he said, adding with a smile, “People say, ‘what did you win?’ and I say, ‘well, more work.’ But it’s good work, because it gets you thinking about what you do, and why you do it. And what’s working for kids, and what’s not working for kids.”
Videotaping his lessons affords him a different perspective – such as how standing in one spot could keep his back turned to a student, or how he might spend more time on one side of the classroom than the other.
“It’s a reflective process, and it’s a really great process to engage in,” Dever said.
Plus it’s connected him with the other county teachers, and the current teacher of the year.
“I work with fantastic people here,” he said. “But then to have this other group of fantastic people that I’m in touch with now is pretty exciting, too.”
Being essentially one of 16 representatives of other teachers in the state presents a chance to show the many things the often self-deprecating people in those positions do, Dever explained.
“This is an opportunity to be a voice for teachers,” he said, noting that it shines a spotlight on teachers in general. “To say, here’s what we do, and here are things that we think we do well … and here are things that we might need help with.”
“I think that it’s OK for teachers to say, we need certain resources to reach the kids,” Dever added.
It’s the pleasure he gains while working with those students that keeps him pushing forward on the not-so-great days.
“Sometimes kids will give a letter or a card at the end of the year, and I save them all,” Dever said. “I save them all. Because there are moments when you might feel down … (and say), ‘oh my gosh, I’m terrible at this job. But then you say, ‘all right, wait a minute – someone gave me this card.”
Being named a county teacher of the year “is kind of like that,” he continued. “I feel like this is something that I can treasure, and I can hold on to. … I can say, people trusted me with this honor, and I need to reciprocate. I need to pay them back for the trust that they’ve shown me.”
“This honor is going to help me … carry that forward, so that I keep it fresh for the kids,” Dever said. “Because they deserve it.”
John Dever of Bath, a social studies teacher at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham for 17 years, has been named Sagadahoc County Teacher of the Year.