Talya Edlund, a third-grade teacher at Pond Cove Elementary School, ‘couldn’t be more deserving’ of the 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year honor.

As third-grade teacher Talya Edlund walked the hallways of Pond Cove Elementary School to her classroom following a school-wide assembly Monday, she couldn’t stop grinning.

Neither could the other Pond Cove staff and students she passed, who hugged and praised Edlund for her outstanding teaching skills.

That’s because Edlund, who has been teaching for 15 years, the last 12 in Cape Elizabeth, learned she was named the 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year Monday morning during a surprise assembly in the school cafetorium, which was packed with current and former students, colleagues, Edlund’s family and friends, state Department of Education officials, town councilors, past Teachers of the Year and more.

Following the hour-long gathering – where Edlund was presented with a Maine Teacher of the Year plaque and commended by other educators for her abilities – Edlund told the Current she was honored to be chosen as the state’s top teacher.

“I am really grateful for the whole experience from the beginning until this exact moment,” said Edlund. “I am really excited about the work ahead. I know it won’t always be easy, and it will be a lot of work, but I am so enthusiastic to take it on with other county teachers of the year.”

Edlund’s duties as Maine’s No. 1 teacher will begin Jan. 1, 2016, and last until December. According to the Department of Education website, she will travel throughout Maine during the next year to advocate for teachers, students and the ongoing efforts in Maine’s public schools to prepare students for success in college and their careers.

“I will be looking at what issues are coming up, and looking at how I can best represent teachers’ voices around those issues,” Edlund said.

She said she felt “so touched” by everyone who turned out for Monday’s event, and is “overwhelmed, but overjoyed” about her accomplishment.

What she loves most about teaching in Cape Elizabeth is “the enthusiasm and excitement around student learning,” the staff, and, of course, the students.

“I love having the day-to-day interaction with the kids,” Edlund said.

Edlund is the second Cape Elizabeth educator to be selected as Maine Teacher of the Year since the state launched the program more than 60 years ago. The program is administered by Portland-based nonprofit Educate Maine. Pond Cove third-grade teacher Irene Armstrong was selected as Maine’s best teacher in 1977.

Pond Cove Principal Kelly Hasson said the Pond Cove School community couldn’t be more proud of Edlund.

“She is really emblematic of the great teaching that happens here,” said Hasson, who was a finalist for Maine Teacher of the Year in 2002. “I think she is going to make the best ambassador for what great teaching and learning is all about.”

“She couldn’t be more deserving,” Hasson said. “She’s selfless. She’s innovative. She loves her students. She seeks out what their passions are.”

During Monday’s celebration, Acting Deputy Education Commissioner Rachelle Tome also recognized Edlund as an innovative teacher and role model who “understands and values the individual uniqueness of every child.” Tome also applauded Edlund for her “tenacious attitude for overcoming challenges,” and “zest for staying at the cutting edge of her craft.”

Tome’s sentiments were echoed by others who attended Monday’s gathering, including retired Turner-area teacher Bill Nave, who was named Maine’s Teacher of the Year in 1990. What he most admires about Edlund, he told the Current, is her ability to build relationships with her students, and the deep connections she makes with them.

“She started teaching in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn, N.Y., where I started teaching in 1968,” he said. “So I know the neighborhood – the whole socio-economic situation of that place – and how hard it is to build relationships with kids, and to inspire them to come to school and work. Talya did that.”

“One thing that most impressed me, in chatting with her,” he added, “is that she has an even deeper passion for kids who don’t immediately pick up whatever it is that’s part of their lessons. She has a sixth sense of who’s not quite there, and what they need to get there. She definitely deserves this (award.)”

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 lives in Cape Elizabeth with her husband, Robert, and their two sons, Miles and Gus. Robert Edlund was hiking in Colorado when he received a call from Hasson about his wife’s award, and flew home to attend the ceremony.

Edlund was named the 2015 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year in May after being nominated by a parent last February for the award. The Department of Education notified Edlund in August that she was one of three finalists for the state title. She was chosen from a field of 300 nominees across Maine.

“We’re extremely proud of her, and happy for her,” said Cape Elizabeth Superintendent Meredith Nadeau while gathered with town councilors and other Maine educators in the Pond Cove gym moments after the ceremony. “She will be a great ambassador for Maine and certainly for Cape Elizabeth.”

Pond Cove third-grade teacher Talya Edlund poses with students in her classroom following a school-wide assembly Monday morning announcing Edlund as the state’s top teacher. Students are, from left, Boden Terry, Campbell DeGeorge, Charlotte Ferguson and Adilene Barbieri.Talya Edlund sits in her classroom at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth Monday after learning she was the 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year. Staff photo by Kayla J. CollinsTalya Edlund hugs Pond Cove literacy specialist Rosemary Ginn following a ceremony at the school announcing Edlund as the state’s top teacher.Staff photos by Kayla J. Collins

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