September 11, 2013

Portland's Karen MacDonald named Maine Teacher of the Year

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Karen MacDonald thought something was up even before she saw all of King Middle School's students and teachers crowded into the cafeteria.

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Teacher Karen MacDonald shares a moment with Middle School Principle Michael McCarthy after she was named Maine Teacher of the Year on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 at an assembly at King Middle School in Portland.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Arzoo Hassanzada, 12, and a seventh-grade student of Karen MacDonald, tells why she likes her teacher. "She always supports you throughout your journey to your goals."

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Related Documents

PDF: Karen MacDonald's nomination document

It's rare at King to have the entire student body crammed into one room, and as she walked past the empty sixth-grade classrooms on her way to the cafeteria, MacDonald wondered if she should be nervous.

Within minutes, the school's 550 students were on their feet, cheering loudly as MacDonald was named Maine's 2014 Teacher of the Year. It's an honor her students and colleagues say is fitting for a teacher who spends all day, every day trying to inspire them to work harder and learn more.

"Never in a million years would I have pictured myself here," she said.

MacDonald is a 33-year veteran known as an innovative teacher who engages students with hands-on projects. She helped the school transition to an expeditionary learning model, which emphasizes real-world projects and teamwork, and has led school improvement efforts.

It didn't take long Tuesday morning for MacDonald to use the honor as a teaching moment, telling students after the ceremony that applying for the Teacher of the Year honor was a lot of work and a bit risky, but worth it.

"I hope this is an inspiration to you to take a risk," she told her students, who wrote letters and spoke to judges in support of her nomination. "I hope you feel you helped me on this journey."

MacDonald teaches English and language arts to sixth- and seventh-graders at King Middle School, the most ethnically and economically diverse middle school in the state. She was one of the first expeditionary learning teachers when the model was created and, says Principal Michael McCarthy, her classroom continues to be "a laboratory for creating and refining excellent teaching practices ever since."

"She's an inspiration to all of us," said McCarthy, who has worked with MacDonald for all of the 24 years she has been at King Middle School. "She is simply the best teacher we have ever known."

In the nomination for the award, the school's nominating committee said MacDonald's "dedication to teaching every single student is exceptional."

"She sets every student up for success with a series of appropriate challenges, and then provides them with the guidance and feedback to meet those challenges. There is no wasted time in (MacDonald's) classroom," the nominating committee wrote.

A former student, Phoebe Scott, also wrote a letter supporting MacDonald's nomination. Scott said MacDonald "would be perfect for teacher of the year because it won't be about herself, in her eyes."

"Knowing her, it will mean inventing and presenting new ways of teaching children," Scott wrote.

Education Commissioner Steve Bowen, who announced the award, read aloud a letter from Gov. Paul LePage. In the letter, LePage said MacDonald "exemplified what it means to truly put students first" and is a "true equalizer of students from all walks of life."

Sophia Nolan and Arzoo Hassanzada, both 12, said after the ceremony that MacDonald always makes class fun and motivates them to become more involved in their own education.

"She's not the kind of teacher where if you do something wrong she'll get mad at you. She'll look at you and say, 'You can do better,'" Nolan said. "She gives you this motivation and makes you want to work so much harder."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

20130910_Teacher_OTY
click image to enlarge

Joe Harrington, 13, a seventh-grade student of Karen MacDonald, tells why he likes his teacher. "She really gets you motivated so you have a really good experience at King."

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

20130910_Teacher_OTY
click image to enlarge

Anthony Troiano, 12, a seventh-grade student of Karen MacDonald, tells why he likes his teacher. "She always makes everything so you can know what's going on."

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

20130910_Teacher_OTY
click image to enlarge

Sophia Nolan, 12, a seventh-grade student of Karen MacDonald, tells why she likes her teacher. "She really makes me a motivated student in school and in all the classes. ... She's just a really good teacher."

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer



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