FALMOUTH — An eight-week high school service learning project at a Head Start program clinched Kevin Grover’s decision to teach.
And as a second-grade teacher at D.W. Lunt School in Falmouth, Maine’s 2010 Teacher of the Year now reinforces the importance of service learning by making it a regular part of his students’ school experience.
Grover’s passion for interacting with the community is evident in his classroom, where he makes it a priority to get to know his students, becoming a part of their lives and the lives of their families. And it’s one of the reasons he was selected from 14 nominees as the state’s 2010 Teacher of the Year.
On Thursday, Sept. 17, local and state officials attended a “surprise” assembly at Lunt to honor Grover’s achievement. Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron recognized him as the winner in front of the entire school population, his family and former students, and praised him as a “wonderful example of what an elementary educator should be.”
As the state winner, Grover receives a $3,000 stipend from Hannaford Bros., which funds the program. In addition, Grover will attend five national events, including a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., and Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. He also becomes eligible to be named the National Teacher of the Year.
Grover has taught for 13 years, the last eight at Lunt. He was nominated a year ago for the state award by a former student and the student’s family.
“It really moved me; it was overwhelming,” Grover said.
But after the nomination came the work. All nominees must write a paper about their teaching philosophy. Semifinalists are visited for a day by representatives of the program, who observe the class, tour the school and speak with parents, other teachers, administrators and students. Semifinalists also prepare a portfolio and give a 20-minute oral presentation to a panel of judges. From these activities, three finalists are selected.
The finalists are interviewed by former Teachers of the Year, who select the candidate they believe will best represent all Maine educators.
Grover said the process, though time-consuming, has already helped him become a better teacher because it has forced him to constantly evaluate his performance, approach and attitudes.
“A good teacher, a teacher who’s effective, has to reflect all the time,” he said.
Grover said he was drawn to elementary education because “it made the most sense.” It was quite a while after making his choice before he gave any thought to the fact that elementary education is predominantly a woman’s field and that men who pursue teaching generally choose the high school level.
He encountered a bit of the reverse discrimination that can be caused by the stereotype during a teaching seminar, when he went to use the bathroom and encountered a sign on the men’s-room door: “For women only today.” He was directed through the kitchen to a bathroom out back.
“That’s when it really hit me,” he said.
Grover has apparently debunked the stereotype, at least in his classroom, that women are more nurturing. His push to know his students’ interests, his efforts to help them make progress at their own levels have provided a nurturing, accepting atmosphere in his class, prompting Gendron to describe him, in part, as “validating.”
And, when asked on Monday what they thought about their teacher, several of his students were quick to volunteer that he was “nice.”
People throughout Maine and the country will have the opportunity to witness Grover’s calm, validating demeanor as he speaks to groups during his travels.
“I want to be sure to capture that this is more than just about me,” Grover said. “This is about my community, my profession and my state and I am a result of those that have supported me. This is not about being the best teacher – I want to be the best voice for the teachers I represent.”
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.