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Casco Bay High School teacher awarded 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year

This year, Educate Maine and the Maine DOE recognized Matthew Bernstein, a ninth-grade humanities and social studies teacher at Casco Bay High School in Portland.

PORTLAND, Maine — On Tuesday, students and teachers at Casco Bay High School buzzed with perhaps a bit more excitement than usual. 

Taking a seat in metal chairs in front of a makeshift podium, they waited to hear the news: Their ninth-grade humanities and social studies teacher, Matthew Bernstein, had been named 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year.

"I was like, 'They can’t possibly be talking about me. It must be somebody else. Maybe they dialed the wrong number,'" Bernstein said, relaying his reaction when he answered a Facetime call recently from leaders with Educate Maine and the Maine Department of Education, telling him he had been selected.

Even with a plaque in hand, Bernstein's humility is obvious. He said this recognition wouldn't have been possible without his students and the teachers around him — from whom the educator jokingly said he steals a lot of ideas.

"When I come here, I feel like I’m home. I feel like I have family around me," Bernstein said.

Casco Bay High School has been Bernstein's home away from home for almost his entire career. He studied at Bowdoin College and interned at Casco Bay High School through the Bowdoin Teacher Scholars program. He left for one year and then returned when a job opened up — and has never looked back. 

"The influence that the school has had on me, not just as a teacher but as a person, is incalculable," Bernstein said while accepting his award on Tuesday.

Bernstein was nominated for this title by a former student, Yusur Jasim, who graduated from Casco Bay High School in 2021. Jasim said they had Bernstein as a teacher during only their second year of being in the United States with their family. Jasim added Bernstein helped them adapt to not only a new school but a new culture. 

"Mr. Bernstein was there for me whenever I needed him. He made sure I was OK," Jasim said at the podium Tuesday. 

Jasim said they weren't really sure what direction to take in life right before graduating last year. It was through Bernstein's guidance that they decided to follow his path: going to Bowdoin College in hopes of pursuing teaching.

"Right now, I’m an education and history major, and I plan to be a social studies teacher just like him in a couple of years, hopefully," Jasim said. 

Jason Judd is the executive director for Educate Maine, a business-led organization that he said "cares deeply" about education. He added the Teachers of the Year program is an opportunity to celebrate, recognize, and support teachers across the state. The goal is to attract and retain good educators.

"Matt is a great example of someone who really commits to both the profession and really supporting his students and his classroom to make sure all their needs are met," Judd said.

"Today we celebrate Mr. Bernstein’s love of teaching, his dedication to his students, and his leadership role in education," Maine DOE Commissioner Pender Makin said in a statement. "Mr. Bernstein’s students and colleagues at Casco Bay High School have described him as energizing, empowering, inclusive, a mentor, supportive, patient, and loving."

Bernstein said he plans to use this position over the next year to redirect the spotlight back onto the students and teachers in our state to advocate for them and highlight the important work they do.

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