The 21st century got off to a pretty wretched start for me. After a fourth miscarriage in four years, the end of my marriage and a defeated departure from a teaching job at a rural school where I was workplace-bullied by a few colleagues, I spent the beginning of 2001 working four part-time jobs and trying to decide what to do next with my life.

I didn’t feel like I had a future in education.

In June of 2001, I saw an advertisement in this very newspaper that ended up changing my life. Freeport High School was looking for a Latin teacher to teach two classes. After 15 years of teaching languages in Maine schools, I thought that sounded like yet another part-time job I could take on to help pay the bills – but just for one year.

Freeport High School immediately felt like home. My colleagues were friendly and supportive. My students were equally friendly and interested in learning. During the third week of school when a student addressed me as “Ms. Whitmore,” I was startled at hearing my maiden name. That reminded me that I was in a new school getting a fresh start and that it was time to completely let go of any bad memories.

I had intended my Freeport High School teaching position to be a one-year solution to a tight budget. It ended up being a 17-year grand finale to my teaching career. I walked into the building every day relaxed and smiling. I almost never had a bad day. What made the difference? It was the connections between students, teachers and parents: warm, friendly and mutually respectful. A number of those former students and their parents have gone on to become dear friends.

The Class of 2018 did me the supreme honor of inviting me to be their graduation speaker. One of the messages I hope they took from my speech was the importance of their high school connections and of doing whatever it took to maintain them after graduation.

I retired in June. But Freeport High School and I aren’t done with each other yet.

I’m a substitute teacher and I’m still among the spectators at sports events, and even a participant in music and theater productions. I have handed the full-time teaching reins over to younger educators, but I absolutely intend to stay part of the FHS community, which gave me my life-changing fresh start.

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