Two local educators are one step closer to claiming the title of New Hampshire’s “Teacher of the Year.”
Maryanne Cullinan, an enrichment teacher in the extended learning program at Great Brook Middle School in Antrim, and Lauren Elliott, a 1st-grade teacher at Winchester School, have been selected as semifinalists for the N.H. Teacher of the Year Award, the state department of education announced Monday. They join nine other semifinalists from around the state, who were chosen from 30 initial nominees.
Cullinan, who lives in Antrim, has worked at Great Brook in the ConVal Regional School District for 11 years, and said she feels torn about the prospect of individual recognition at a time when so many school employees, students and families are facing unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel really humble and pleased to be recognized, but the timing of this is honestly a little strange, because after the spring that we’ve all had — including parents and students and everyone — it feels like every single person involved in public education is the teacher of the year,” Cullinan said by phone Monday. “We’ve all worked so incredibly hard, and been creative, and put so much passion into turning on a dime.”
Elliott, a native Swanzey resident who has taught at Winchester for 10 years, said she was shocked and humbled to reach this stage of the award process.
“I enjoy sharing what I do and I love collaborating and learning from other educators,” Elliott wrote in an email Monday. “My hope from this process is that I continue to learn and grow as an educator and that I get a chance to connect with and learn from others in the education profession.”
Cullinan and Elliott learned of their nominations for the award in January and February, respectively.
Teachers can be nominated by peers, administrators, students, parents or other community members, according to the N.H. Department of Education. Teachers are selected for their exemplary service, dedication to their students and commitment to improving education, and the teacher of the year is meant to honor one person who represents the best of New Hampshire’s educators.
Before being named semifinalists, Cullinan and Elliott had to submit videos detailing how they made the transition to remote instruction. Schools across the state operated remotely throughout the spring by order of Gov. Chris Sununu due to concern over the novel coronavirus.
For Elliott’s presentation, she put together a slideshow with audio commentary on the importance of staying connected with students and their families, and maintaining a love of learning, during remote instruction. Cullinan, who grew up in Temple and is an alumna of ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough, focused on providing students with learning options that they wouldn’t have gotten in the classroom. For example, in her class on Greek mythology, she allowed students to try their hand at cooking Greek foods or practicing ancient Greek athletic events.
Christine Brennan, deputy commissioner of the N.H. Department of Education, described this year’s field as a competitive one.
“The Teacher of the Year selection committee has had a hard time narrowing down a field of incredible candidates to these semi-finalists, and our job picking a recipient will be even harder,” Brennan said in a news release Monday.
As semifinalists, Cullinan and Elliott will each present a 15-minute speech to the selection committee next month on how they can elevate the teaching profession in New Hampshire.
After the semifinalist presentations, the state selection committee will choose finalists, whose schools the committee hopes to visit in September. The winner, who will be announced in October, will be the New Hampshire entrant in the National Teacher of the Year Program, according to a news release from the state department of education.
Regardless of the outcome of the selection process, Elliott said she is eager to continue pursuing her love of education.
“I am thankful everyday that I get to do what I love and am passionate about,” she said. “I am looking forward to my continued adventures in the teaching profession.”
Cullinan added that, through the remainder of the process, she hopes to highlight the good work of Granite State teachers.
“And I also want to highlight how amazing it is to teach middle-schoolers,” she said. “They are passionate and thoughtful and funny and awkward and crazy and really up for any challenge.”