In this photo from the beginning of the school year, Pemetic Elementary School teacher Bonnie Norwood sits in front of her computer in her classroom. PHOTO COURTESY OF DENCIE MCENROE

Teachers go “above and beyond” in pandemic year



By Rebecca Alley and Dick Broom

ELLSWORTH — When Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Hancock native, became the first woman elected to the job in December, she told The American how much of an impact her teachers had on her political career.

“Mrs. Johnson was my kindergarten teacher,” she remembered, adding that without the speech therapy she received as a young student at Hancock Grammar School, “I wouldn’t be in politics today.”

The support she received was monumental in “normal” times.

Now, the call to appreciate teachers has reached an all-new level, especially after educators, parents and students navigated virtual learning from within the confines of shared home and workspaces. While many schools have welcomed students back to in-person learning for most of the week, the transition to learning alongside pandemic protocols has still taken a lot of work.

“I can’t stress enough the amount of hours our teachers put in this year,” said Ellsworth High School Principal Dan Clifford, whose teaching staff has spent nights and weekends putting together remote and hybrid learning lesson plans.

“It’s been extremely difficult,” Clifford reflects. “For the most part it’s been really successful.”

Clifford said that throughout the challenges, his staff has persevered.

“My teachers have always had a good attitude and that has continued this year,” he said. “We’ve definitely had some trying times … but the effort has always been there, and the attitude has always been good.”

“We’re in this together and we need to figure this out for our students, and I feel like we’re doing that,” he added.

It has been especially nice to have students and teachers physically together full-time.

“We have about 390 kids back, so right now, morale is up,” he said. “It’s more personable when [students are] in your classroom.”

To celebrate and acknowledge the work of teachers, Ellsworth High School will be doing what it does every year, participating in Teacher Appreciation Week.

“We have something different for [teachers] every single day,” Clifford said, including special lunches and giving out roses.

“It usually is a special week around here and we try to celebrate them as much as we can,” he said.

“I have never been more proud of our educators,” said Mount Desert Island High School Principal Matt Haney.

“Our teachers have met each new challenge with grace and patience and have done it all out of the love they have for their students.”

At Bucksport High School, Principal Josh Tripp shares similar praise for his staff.

“I think I could give a thousand different examples of their creativity and perseverance,” Tripp said.

This includes quickly learning new technology to make remote learning a possibility.

“The way they have supported each other has really been remarkable,” Tripp said.

He said that despite the stress teachers may be feeling, you would not be able to tell when walking into a classroom.

Like every year, Bucksport High School will recognize its staff at a special meal during Teacher Appreciation Week.

While it will look different than years past — with teachers broken up into smaller groups enjoying individually wrapped meals from MacLeod’s Restaurant — it will still be a chance to honor their work.

“They really have put in a tremendous amount of work to make this the best educational experience for students,” Tripp said. “It’s still nice just to have a small token of appreciation we can pass along to them.”

Brenda Jordan, principal of the Cave Hill School in Eastbrook, is also working with her staff to tweak beloved traditions to make sure the school still celebrates its teachers, support staff and custodians.

“There will be food and flowers and appreciation the whole week through,” she said.

Like Tripp and Clifford, Jordan is also recognizing the hardships her staff has had to overcome throughout the pandemic, especially with embracing new technology.

“It’s been heartwarming to see teachers who really had to step up their game and make it work,” she said. “They’ve been learning from each other and I think that’s been a huge silver lining.”

Support has also come from throughout the district.

“I would love to give a shout out to the superintendent and the Regional School Unit 24 Board of Directors,” Jordan said. She said Superintendent Michael Eastman and the board have supported the district and recognized everybody’s hard work. “It’s very much appreciated,” she added.

On Mount Desert Island, Mount Desert Elementary School Principal Gloria Delsandro said the past year has definitely been challenging.

“But our teachers have been so inspiring,” she said. “Because of the COVID protocols, we haven’t had substitute teachers this year except for one floating sub. So, we’ve had to be super flexible, and people have gone above and beyond in doing whatever needs to be done.”

For example, Delsandro said her secretary has been helping out in the kitchen and the school’s music teacher has been teaching sixth grade.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our teachers and our whole school community,” she said. “Our kids are healthy and active and they’re learning.”

As for observing Teacher Appreciation Week, Delsandro said she was confident she could speak for all school principals in saying, “It’s not just one week a year, it’s all the time that administrators are so grateful and appreciative. We appreciate our staffs more than anything.”

At Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, “The teachers and ed techs have put their best foot forward in creating safe but inviting classrooms,” said Principal Barb Neilly.

“Imagine having to recreate your work environment to accommodate for social distancing when you are used to working with students in small groups and having them work collaboratively on group projects. Teachers have juggled between in-person and virtual learning, struggling with the many challenges technology can bring.

“They also have created schedules that meet students’ needs. They have been resourceful in using the outside as a classroom, whether on campus or in town, and they have created amazing units of study.”

Neilly said the K-8 school’s custodians, cooks, nurse and bus drivers also have done “an amazing job” during the pandemic. She called them all “heroes.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of our staff for putting students’ needs first,” Neilly said. “It’s been tough, but it’s been the right thing to do.

“We also have to recognize how helpful and supportive the community has been.”

At Tremont Consolidated School, “The past year has been hard, of course, but it also has been terribly rewarding to see what we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Principal Jandrea True.

“Our teachers deserve a tremendous amount of praise. The team mentality here, that we’ll bend over backwards and do whatever it takes for students, has never been more evident.

“Everybody in this building has done an absolutely magical job. I’m incredibly grateful to be where I am, even in a year that has felt impossible at times.”

True said that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit suddenly late last winter, the teachers at her school hardly skipped a beat.

“From day one, the teachers at Tremont were ready to hit the ground running,” she said.

“People are exhausted, but we continue to feel like we do this work because these kids need people they can rely on, and we want to be those people. They deserve an education, and their parents deserve for us to be here, too.”

In addition to praising the Tremont teachers, True said, “I cannot give enough credit to the students, who did what many people thought kids could not do. They always rise to the occasion.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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