By Sarah Stark, Staff Writer
A 1993 graduate and Alumni Scholar of the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) is the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year. Jennifer Dorman, a seventh and eighth- grade special education teacher and reading intervention specialist at Skowhegan Area Middle School, was recently presented the award by newly appointed Maine Education Commissioner James E. Rier, Jr. at a surprise school-wide assembly at the middle school.
Dorman is only the second special education teacher in Maine to receive the award and in the coming year hopes to be a voice of advocacy for special education students and teachers alike as she travels to schools throughout Maine. “I want to keep students at the center,” said Dorman. “When it comes to advocating for education policy.”
Dorman credits UMF with helping to establish her strong foundation as an educator. “I really feel that my time at the university – the activities – gave me the experience to develop my own perspective and philosophy, a lot of the education classes were focused on you honing in on your philosophy,” she said. “It centered me and because of that I felt really confident when I began teaching.”
As a student at Cony High School in Augusta, Dorman’s algebra teacher, UMF graduate Katherine Casparius, encouraged Dorman to apply to the University and its Alumni Scholars Program. She was accepted and as an Alumni Scholar received a full four-year tuition scholarship.
At UMF, Dorman said she witnessed the importance of having a positive outlook from her two favorite faculty members, english professors Bill Roorbach and Wes McNair. “When they worked with each of their students, they highlighted what that student did well,” said Dorman. “When you’re a writer, you’re really putting yourself out there and they acknowledged the risk and they encouraged us to go even further with it.”
Dorman said that the UMF faculty in general inspired students. “It’s almost like they’re grabbing you and saying let’s walk down this path together and learn something,” she said. “I knew the destination I wanted to reach with my students and the faculty gave me the tools to get there.”
While at UMF, Dorman did her work study at the Alumni House. “The staff at the Alumni House just took me under their wings; they were my moms away from home,” she said. “I had people who cared about what I was doing and how I was doing in my classes.”
It was during her practicum work that Dorman fell in love with the students and the field of special education. In her first year teaching after graduation, she was again rewarded in finding some of those same students in her new classroom.
Dorman has seen a big shift in education during the 21st century. “Now more than ever, we’re using the research of teachers before us to improve instruction.” She said, “Teaching has become so scientific,” in its attempts to tailor programs to individual situations. This has been a good thing for her as an educator. “The techniques I use in the classroom are more purposeful,” added Dorman.
During her time as Teacher of the Year, Dorman will share strategies that have been successful for her. She believes a rich reading environment filled with appropriate texts for teens at lower reading levels is needed to inspire and engage them. “Those two things have to come together for kids to want to read,” she said. “If they don’t want to read, they’re never going to become a better reader.”
She has also learned the importance of developing strong positive relationships with the families of special education students. “They’re fearful of the challenges their child will face,” said Dorman. “I think you have to acknowledge that…Probably the best piece of advice I could give to other special educations professionals is to remind the parents that you all want the child to be successful…That’s when you can really start making progress.”
Dorman offered some words of advice for UMF education students saying, “Pay attention to what you gravitate to because it’s what you are meant to do.” She also suggested that teaching is enhanced by continual reflection and by collaborating with and observing peers. “Variety will enhance your experience and professional work,” she added.
This year’s award proves that Dorman has been on the right track but the outpouring of gratitude from former students and parents has been the most rewarding and humbling part. “You never know the impact you have until they tell you, sometimes years later,” said Dorman. One of the many cards she has received is from a high school senior that Dorman taught when she attended the middle school. It reads, “You transformed me and I will never forget.”
In addition to her education degree from UMF, in 2009, Dorman earned a master’s degree from Lesley University through a satellite program at the Good Will-Hinckley campus in Hinckley, Maine.
As 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year, Dorman will also attend national education conferences, NASA’s Space Camp and a White House gala during National Teacher Appreciation Week. Dorman’s husband, Cal, and her two siblings, Megan Kilcoyne and Thomas Kilcoyne, are all UMF graduates.