Talya Edlund, a third-grade teacher at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth, is in the running to become Maine Teacher of the Year this fall.

Dolly Sullivan, program coordinator for Educate Maine’s Teacher of the Year program, notified Edlund, who has been teaching at the school since 2004, on May 1 that she was recently named 2015 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year.

“It was clear that Talya really would be a wonderful representative for Cumberland County,” Sullivan told the Current. “These teachers represent other teachers in their district, in their schools around the state. Talya is an amazing educator. She’s very talented, and very well-deserving.”

State officials honored Edlund, and 15 other county teachers, May 7 at a ceremony in the Hall of Flags in Maine’s state house in Augusta. Edlund was selected among 300 nominees statewide.

“I have first-hand knowledge of Ms. Edlund’s wonderful ability to inspire her students to learn and explore,” state Sen. Rebecca Millett, of Cape Elizabeth, said in a May 8 press release. “My son blossomed with her as his teacher in second grade.”

Edlund, 39, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in elementary education from Brooklyn College in New York. She told the Current this week that she loves working in the community where she lives.

“I love running into students at the town library or at the beach,” she said. “I love that my former students coach my two young boys in soccer and are teaching them to swim and ski. Not a day goes by when I don’t recognize how lucky I am to live and work in a community that really does support and value its teachers,” said Edlund, who lives in Cape Elizabeth with her husband, Robert, and two sons, Miles and Gus.

According to the Educate Maine website, to be considered for the county and state Teacher of the Year awards, candidates must hold a four-year degree, teach in a public school, and play an active and useful role in the school and community, and be exceptionally skilled, dedicated and knowledgeable, among other qualities.

Honorees will now take part in a rigorous selection process, which includes submitting a video showcasing their classroom and instructional practices, developing a professional portfolio for review, school visits, and an interview with a state review panel to include one-on-one time with acting state education commissioner Tom Desjardin.

“What makes the 16 county teachers of the year, and so many others across our state, great is that they believe in every single child they teach,” Desjardin said in a May 7 press release from the state Department of Education.

“Talya is simply an extraordinary teacher,” said Pond Cove Principal Kelly Hasson. “She brings passion to her work each day, provides students with differentiated learning opportunities and cares deeply about each of her students. Talya is emblematic of a teacher who is passionate about her life’s work and her students’ success.”

Maine Teacher of the Year is a program of the Maine Department of Education, administered by Portland-based nonprofit organization Educate Maine. Westbrook Middle School teacher Sarah Brokofsky was recognized as Cumberland County Teacher of the Year in 2014.

Edlund responded to the Current this week about being named Cumberland County Teacher of the Year and what she enjoys most about teaching at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth.

Q: What is your reaction to being named county Teacher of the Year? Were you surprised?

A: I will forever be grateful to the family who nominated me. I was totally honored and yes, completely surprised. I am not sure if they realize just how much they affected my life and energized the whole school.

Q: Who nominated you for the award?

A: I was nominated by a parent of a current student. According to this family, their child has enjoyed many of the integrated projects we’ve done in class. She has written and directed a play and a news program. She also worked with a group of friends to create an origami Thanksgiving scene and has created a Google slide presentation about Claude Monet.

Q: Is there anyone in particular you would like to thank for this recognition?

A: Beyond the family that recognized me and the truly supportive administration we have here, I would thank my third-grade team of teachers, our school counselor and social workers, (educational technicians) and our technology integrator. Also, our literacy specialist. We work very well together and support each other personally and professionally.

My sweet husband. He brings me sandwiches and cookies to work every week. My mother-in-law who is a lifelong educator and my role model. I would also thank Dolly Sullivan and Educate Maine for expanding the Teacher of the Year program so that it impacts communities across the entire state, and for being a stalwart of teachers.

Q: Is this the first time you’ve been recognized for teaching?

A: This is my first formal recognition, but the families that I have worked with in Cape Elizabeth have always been vocal cheerleaders about what we’re doing in the classroom.

Q: What do you enjoy about teaching and what do you bring to the table at Pond Cove Elementary School?

A: Kids are the most fun and innovative people around. Right now, I am really enjoying teaching persuasive writing. Third-graders are full of opinions, and I love seeing them discover their beliefs and choose the most impassioned words their 9-year-old minds can think of to express themselves. It’s also quite delightful to get them to debate their opinions with one another. They really take that seriously.

Q: What makes your teaching style unique?

A: I want to offer my students as many rich experiences as possible, with as many chances to connect with people outside of our classroom as I can. Recently, my class began a swim program where high school kids are working with my students on building swim skills. I did not expect the level of community building among the kids to be so high. The first time I saw how much my students were rooting for each other at the pool, I cried.

Q: What are your goals as a teacher?

A: This summer I will be going to the Teacher’s College Reading Institute in New York City. I hope that this opportunity will help me align my reading instruction with the Common Core as well as tighten up my literacy instruction. Next year I hope to start up a “genius hour” during the school week where students can research and explore their own passions and interests and decide how they will showcase their learning. I’d also like to expand our class use of Twitter to connect with classrooms across the state.

Q: What are some of the challenges?

A: Right now, the biggest challenge is the number of relatively new initiatives that teachers are pressured to implement in their classrooms. These include aligning curriculum with the Common Core, effectively integrating technology, differentiating instruction, and preparing students for Smarter Balance tests. These are huge initiatives. Teachers are still trying to meet their students’ needs effectively and with compassion, but our days are not endless and these initiatives require time for planning and collaborating.

Talya Edlund, third-grade teacher at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth and Cumberland County’s Teacher of the Year, left, and State Sen. Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth during a ceremony at the state house in Augusta May 7 honoring Edlund and the 15 other county teachers of the year. Courtesy photo

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