In an all-school assembly today at Gorham Middle School, the Maine Department of Education and Educate Maine named alternative education teacher Heather Whitaker Maine’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.
During her 18-year teaching career at Gorham Middle School, Heather has been a true advocate for combining learning opportunities with the needs of the community. She started her school’s garden, which donates over 800 pounds of produce for the local food pantry each year. She also was a founding member of the Gorham BackPack Program, which provides students in her community, experiencing chronic hunger, with food over the weekend. Her alternative education students are active volunteers for both programs. Just recently, this program was awarded a $25,000 State Farm Community Assist grant.
Heather is passionate about and experienced in using restorative practices and experiential learning. She believes in the power of relationships and that learning should be meaningful to students. Whenever possible, Heather takes students out of the classroom and has them engaged in the community.
Heather graduated from Boston College in 2000, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education with Moderate Special Needs. She later earned her Master of Science in Literacy Education at the University of Southern Maine.
Heather’s biggest love is her family. Her husband, Marc, son Trent, and daughter Maeve inspire her daily. She loves hosting friends at her house, can be found in the mountains skiing during the winter, and is proud to be a “Maine-ah.”
She was nominated by her former principal, Robert Riley, who stated “because of her innovative, can-do nature, her refusal to give up on any student and her selfless contributions to our school community and to her students, I believe Heather is an excellent candidate to represent all that is good in our educational system.”
Heather was selected from a pool of more than 300 teachers who were nominated by a member of their community earlier this year, she was then named the 2019 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year, and then later named one of three State finalists before being named the 2020 Teacher of the Year today.
The Teacher of the Year Program is a year-long process that involves educator portfolio and resume submissions, interviews, oral presentations, and classroom visits made by a selection panel comprised of State Board of Education members, school administrators, Maine Department of Education staff, former Teachers of the Year, and other Maine business partners.
As the 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year, Heather will travel throughout the state and country collaborating with other educators to support the efforts underway to prepare all students for college, work, and civic life. She will be Maine’s representative in the National Teacher of the Year program which includes a national forum with other State Teachers of the Year, a week at a NASA Space Camp, and a visit to the White House.
The Maine Teacher of the Year program is administered by Educate Maine, a business-led advocacy organization, in partnership with the Maine Department of Education and the Maine State Board of Education. Funding for the program is generously provided by Bangor Savings Bank, Dead River, Geiger, Hannaford, Maine Lottery, and Pratt and Whitney.
For more information about the Maine Teacher of the Year program, visit www.mainetoy.org.