Portland high school teacher named best in Cumberland County

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PORTLAND — Now that she’s been named Cumberland County’s best teacher, Brook Teller, who teaches chemistry at Casco Bay High School in Portland, is in the running to become Maine’s next teacher of the year.

Although she came to the profession in round-about way, Teller said this week, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Teachers “have chosen to do the most important work there is: teaching children (and) educating our future leaders.”

Teller, who has taught at Casco Bay High for the past 10 years, said what she most enjoys about her work is “taking a very abstract subject, concerning things we can’t actually see, like atoms and molecules, and helping students understand that they are the basis for everything.”

She now lives in Portland with her husband, whom she met at her sister’s wedding: he was the guitar player in the band.

Teller holds a bachelor’s degree from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts and a master’s degree from Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. She was also previously nominated for teacher of the year honors in Connecticut, where she’s originally from.

Derek Pierce, the principal at Casco Bay High who won the principal of the year award in 2016, called Teller “a splendid educator and an even more splendid human.”

He said just this academic year, for instance, Teller created a new course, entitled “The Chemistry of Mars,” which she co-designed and taught with a professor at the University of Southern Maine.

In addition, Teller led a learning expedition this past fall that focused on the chemistry of climate change, creating a new generation of “climate change warriors,” Pierce said.

She also presented at a national conference, is the Junior Team Leader and the school’s “faculty wellness czar.”

Teller knew she “always wanted to have a science-related career,” which is why she majored in biology at Smith. But it wasn’t until after graduation that she pursued becoming a teacher through Connecticut’s Alternate Route to Certification program.

“I am so honored. I am thrilled to be representing the teachers of Casco Bay High School, Portland Public Schools and the rest of Cumberland County,” Teller said about winning the county teacher of the year award from Educate Maine and the Maine Department of Education.

Teller is a member of the founding staff at Casco Bay High and called the alternative school “a loving, diverse family” where “we have a strong culture of community and collaboration built on (the principles of) rigor, relevance, and relationships.”

At Casco Bay High, she said, “We work together, as students and staff, to learn about the world around us (and we see it as) our responsibility to be educated, global citizens. There is no other school I would rather be at.”

As a county teacher of the year, Teller will “represent all teachers in the state of Maine,” which includes attending conferences, speaking engagements and “being the voice of teachers for legislators.”

Educate Maine, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to ensuring that all Maine students receive a quality education, announced the county teachers of the year May 11 and said the awards program is designed to “celebrate the thousands of outstanding professional educators in Maine schools.”

Overall, Educate Maine said, “Our county and state teachers of the year serve as exemplars of the teaching profession.”

Educate Maine said it “received hundreds of nominations for outstanding teachers across our state” before winnowing the list down to the 16 county teachers of the year.

The Department of Education said the county awardees were all selected for “their exemplary service and dedication to their students.”

According to the DOE, the teachers chosen will now engage in the “intensive state teacher of the year selection process,” which includes submitting a video showcasing their individual classroom instructional practices.

The department said the field of 16 will then be narrowed to eight semi-finalists who will be asked to submit a “professional portfolio” and make a presentation to a select panel of education professionals.

After that, the field for teacher of the year will be narrowed one more time, down to three finalists. The teacher of the year will be announced in October, the department said, following a school site visit and final interview.

Teachers provide their students with important skills and knowledge, but, Teller said, “more importantly we provide a safe place, a listening ear, and a deeply caring adult that students can depend on to have their best interests and success (at heart).”

“What I am most pleased about with this award,” she added “is that it lifts teachers up and acknowledges the important work that we do.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

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