Matt Bernstein, a social studies teacher at Casco Bay High School and the 2022 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year, has been selected as 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year.
Casco Bay High staff and students and state and local education officials celebrated Bernstein’s win at a special school assembly on Tuesday morning, Oct. 11. The event featured words of praise and recognition for the honoree and a standing ovation from students.
“He’s just an amazing, amazing teacher,” said Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin, as she presented Bernstein with a 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year plaque. Makin said that among words students use to describe him are “energizing, empowering, inclusive, responsive and genuine.” She said one student said Bernstein motivates students because “he is so invested in finding the best in you.”
In May, the Maine Teacher of the Year Program named Bernstein as 2022 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year. He was one of 16 teachers – one from each of Maine’s counties – selected for that honor. Then, in June, he became one of eight County Teachers of the Year who were semifinalists for 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year. Next, in August, Bernstein and three other teachers from around the state made it to the finalist stage. Bernstein emerged as the top choice after further vetting, which included a daylong site visit to the finalists’ schools by a state review panel.
“I’m thrilled and proud that Matt rose to the top of such a strong field of finalists. He is exceptional and will do all of us – and the profession – proud,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “The People goal in the Portland Promise, our strategic plan, commits us to attracting and retaining the best and the brightest. Matt is a terrific example of the outstanding educators we are fortunate to have at the Portland Public Schools.”
Casco Bay High School Principal Derek Pierce said, "Matt represents Casco Bay and teaching at its best. His students do work that matters – to themselves and the world. Both colleagues and students are grateful for Mr. Bernstein's splendid humanity, which he both demonstrates, and nudges us toward, daily."
Bernstein credited his supportive community for helping him achieve the honor. “I am overwhelmed with gratitude at this moment,” he said. He thanked not only everyone involved with the program at the state level, but also district and school leaders and colleagues. “You are the best collection of teachers I have ever met,” he told fellow CBHS teachers, many of whom dressed like him in his honor, wearing button down shirts and chino-style pants. “Thanks for rocking the signature look today.”
But mostly Bernstein thanked Casco Bay students. “This place is so special because of you, the students. This award is a reflection of you,” he said. “I’m being recognized as teacher of the year, but you are students of the century. Your potential is limitless.”
Bernstein has been teaching Humanities at Casco Bay for the past eight years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Bowdoin College. He previously taught world history and U.S. history at The Greene School, an EL Education school in West Greenwich, Rhode Island.
Bernstein was nominated for Cumberland County Teacher of the Year by former student Yusur Jasim, a member of the Casco Bay Class of 2021, who now attends Bowdoin College and is studying to be a teacher, having been inspired by Bernstein.
“I’m in genuine awe of Mr. B,” Jasim said at the ceremony. “He remains one of the best teachers I have known and one of the best people.”
As 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year, Bernstein now will become the most visible exemplar of the teaching profession in the state. He’ll be invited to serve on various committees, participate in many programs and events, and speak on a number of occasions.
2022 Maine Teacher of the Year Kelsey Stoyanova, a Hampden middle school teacher, also spoke at the ceremony. “Over the next year and beyond, people all over Maine and the United States will get to know Mr. Bernstein and come out better for it,” she said.
Others present at the event included Jason Judd, the Executive Director of Educate Maine; a representative from the Maine State Board of Education, Portland Board of Public Education members and Maine Teacher of the Year program partners and funding organizations. Learn more about the ceremony in this Maine Department of Education news release.
Other Portland Public Schools teachers honored in the past decade by the Maine Teacher of the Year Program are Cindy Soule, a literacy coach at Talbot Community School, who was 2020 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year and 2021 Maine Teacher of the Year; Brooke Teller, the district’s STEM coordinator, who was the 2017 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year; Talya Edlund, assistant principal at Lyseth Elementary School, who was the 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year and 2015 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year; and Karen MacDonald, a King Middle School teacher, now retired, who was the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year.
The Maine Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year Program is administered through a collaborative partnership with Educate Maine.
Learn more about Bernstein and the other teacher nominees at the Maine Teacher of the Year Program.
PHOTO: Casco Bay High School grad Yusur Jasim (left) and CBHS social studies teacher Matt Bernstein share a hug after Bernstein was named 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year. Jasim, formerly a student of Bernstein's, nominated him for the Maine Teacher of the Year program.
The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 50 languages. 51 percent of the district’s students are white and 49 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.