Presidential award helps Yarmouth teacher put things in perspective

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YARMOUTH — Kim Spencer received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., but said her teaching includes everything from math and science to reading and poetry.

“Everyday is something new,” she said. “… I love teaching, all of it. It is amazing to see these kids grow. It’s a celebration of their accomplishments, and a huge responsibility to make sure it is an engaging environment for them.”

Spencer, a second- and third-grade looping teacher at Yarmouth Elementary School, has been teaching for 15 years. She was one of 87 teachers in the nation to be honored with the Presidential Award, given every year by the National Science Foundation to math and science teachers from throughout the country. Winners are selected on the state level, alternating between kindergarten through grade 6 and grade 7 through 12 every other year.  

In the nation’s capitol she was able to communicate with a research team in New Zealand through video conferencing, had lunch with an astronomer and a geologist, and spoke to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“In talking to a variety of people in Washington, I felt like their ears were open and they were interested in both warm and cool feedback from us,” she said. “They wanted to hear about the problems and the real solutions, and I felt as though they were listening and doing the best they could.”

In addition, Spencer visited the White House, where President Barack Obama addressed the educators, and accepted the citation signed by the president in a ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences.

Throughout the week Spencer met many teachers from other states, and said she was amazed by the different resources and working conditions around the country. She said some teachers had 35 students per class or only two computers per school.

“I realized again how fortunate I am to be in Yarmouth,” she said “We have technology coordinators that teach with us, we have support from staff, families and the community. I am delighted to be where I am right now, and feel so fortunate.”

Yarmouth Elementary School principal Betsy Lane said Spencer is the “quintessential professional.” She said she couldn’t think of anyone better to represent Yarmouth, the state of Maine and ultimately the teaching profession.

“Kim always has an incredible amount of integrity,” Lane said. “She thinks about what is best for the students, and is willing to look at things differently to meet the needs of the children.”

Spencer said receiving the award and traveling to Washington with her family broadened her thinking and rejuvenated her.

“The whole process from start to finish – videotaping myself teaching, filling out the application and winning the award – has changed how I teach,” she said. “Second and third grade should be fun. There is a lot of schooling to get through, and I want students to come out of my class with the foundation to succeed in all areas.”

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or

Sidebar Elements

Yarmouth Elementary School teacher Kim Spencer, right, is joined by her niece, Elizabeth Littlefield, husband Randy and son Thomas on Jan. 6 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., where Spencer received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

President Barack Obama speaks to the winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching on Jan. 6 at the White House.