Caribou teacher hoping to shine light on Aroostook educators as Teacher of the Year

2 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — When Heather Anderson began teaching at Caribou Community School last fall, she never expected to end the school year as Aroostook County’s Teacher of the Year.

But that’s exactly what happened when the Maine Department of Education named Anderson, along with 15 other educators across Maine, the Teachers of the Year for their respective counties.

Anderson and her fellow educators were honored in a ceremony held Thursday at the Hall of Flags in Augusta by Maine DOE representatives, Gov. Janet Mills and Maine Senate President Troy Jackson.

“It was surreal,” Anderson said. “I always tell my students that it’s important to take risks and step outside your comfort zone, and I was telling myself that as I stood there.”

Anderson teaches eighth grade English language arts and social studies at CCS. Prior to that, she spent her career at Connor Consolidated School. She taught various subjects for pre-K to fourth grade and most recently served as a teacher and the school’s principal.

By moving to CCS, Anderson hoped to spend more time teaching and building relationships with students. Some of the greatest moments have come during times when she has learned alongside their students, she said.

The front entrance of Caribou Community School. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

For instance, to prepare for her students’ current unit on the Civil War and its aftermath, Anderson brushed up on famous battles and found ways to connect stories from the Reconstruction Era to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

“Next week students will learn about one person from the Reconstruction Era and take on that role as they interact with their classmates to learn about people in that era,” Anderson said. “It’s meant to help them in ELA, since we’re talking about Emmett Till and how [his death] helped start the Civil Rights Movement.”

Anderson has also become passionate about using technology to help students demonstrate what they have learned. Recently, she connected students with people from the Maine DOE’s Maine Learning Technology Initiative Ambassador Program, which helped them hone skills in 3-D printing, animation, virtual reality and coding.

Anderson’s colleague Kim Barnes, who also teaches eighth grade ELA and social studies at CCS, nominated Anderson for Aroostook Teacher of the Year. Barnes called Anderson a “dynamic” educator who is always finding ways to better engage students in humanities subjects.

Most importantly, Barnes said, Anderson knows how to make her classroom a place where students feel accepted and motivated to learn.

“Heather works hard every day to make students feel loved and inspired,” said Barnes, who was the 2019 Aroostook County Teacher of the Year. “She always thinks about how we can make a great idea come to fruition for our students.”

Caribou Community School Principal Leland Caron said that Barnes’ and Anderson’s Teacher of the Year honors, only three years apart, show how committed Caribou teachers are to their students’ growth in the classroom.

The student engagement and the relationship building observed during Heather’s first year at CCS have been absolutely amazing. Kids are learning and having fun at the same time,” Caron said.

Being named Aroostook Teacher of the Year makes Anderson eligible for the Maine Teacher of the Year honor, to be announced this fall. 

But even if Anderson does not make it that far, she wants to use her new platform to have broader conversations about mental health issues that students have faced during the pandemic. She also plans to take part in regional and state education events with other county teachers and share ideas for how they can best serve students.

During the next year, Anderson hopes to better educate people across Maine about both the challenges and successes of Aroostook County’s schools.

“I want the rest of the state to know about all the great things happening in education in Aroostook County and at CCS,” Anderson said.