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Mr. Bernstein Goes to Washington

Casco Bay High School teacher Matt Bernstein, who is Maine’s 2023 Teacher of the Year, went to the White House April 24, joining other state teachers of the year from across the country for a recognition ceremony with President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, and US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Watch a YouTube video of the event.

It was the latest honor for the humanities/social studies teacher. Last May, the Maine Teacher of the Year Program named Bernstein as the 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 chosen as semifinalists for 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year. Next, last August, Bernstein and three other teachers from around the state made it to the finalist stage and underwent further vetting.

Finally, in October, Bernstein emerged as the top choice and was declared as the 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year.

“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 during a ceremony at CBHS on Oct. 11. 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.”

At the White House ceremony this week, First Lady Jill Biden, herself an educator who teaches at a community college, said that teachers change lives.

“And I think that message matters more than ever. Because lately, when I turn on the TV, I see pundits and politicians talking about our profession. I hear them attacking our public schools, distorting the truth about what we do, and saying that parents and teachers are at odds,” Jill Biden said. “But that’s not what I’ve seen. As I’ve traveled this country, I’ve visited some pretty amazing programs where parents and teachers are working hand in hand to help kids overcome challenges and make our schools better for everyone. There’s no divide between those who love our students and those who teach them — because we all do both.”

President Biden said, “Jill reminds me all the time that teaching is not just what you do, it’s who you are. It’s who you are. So I want to stand by saying to every teacher here today and every teacher across the country: Thank you, thank you, thank you. And I mean it…We ask so much of you. And each and every time, you all step up and say yes. And the impact you have on our students is profound.”

However, the President continued, “as we’ve seen the past few years, a difficult profession has gotten even harder. And we ask so much of our nation’s teachers: early mornings greeting students, late nights grading papers…As Jill just mentioned, every single one of us here is at least in part here because of somewhere along the way we had a teacher who believed in us. And I bet you can name your teacher. I can name the one who believed in me. I can name her in grade school and in college. Helped me believe in ourselves: That’s what you do. That’s the power of a great teacher. And the teachers represented here today, you’re the best of the best of the best. Thank you. Congratulations to each and every one of you.”

Click HERE to read a complete transcript of the remarks by Biden and others at the ceremony.

Read the Maine Department of Education press release about Bernstein’s trip to Washington, titled "Bernstein Honored at White House Ceremony." 

Here’s also a WGME Channel 13 story about Bernstein attending the ceremony, titled “Maine Teacher of the Year honored at White House.”

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.