The Day – Norwich Teacher of the Year is all about making pupils feel safe and comfortable

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Norwich — When Andrew Lee began his teaching career at John B. Stanton Elementary School in 2005, his new classroom was eerily familiar, except it had a new carpet.

In 1986, Lee had attended second grade in that same classroom and recalled one day throwing up on the carpet and then rushing down the same hallway and into the same bathroom in the parents’ bedroom. boys.

“I’ve walked the halls, and it’s been the same, since 1986,” Lee said. “It’s just funny that I’ve come full circle.”

Last week, Lee was named Norwich Teacher of the Year 2022. He has spent his entire teaching career in Norwich, teaching mainly second year at Veterans’ Memorial School. In 2020, as young students faced increasing mental and physical barriers to learning with the onset of the pandemic, Lee left day-to-day classroom instruction to join the district’s focus on student behavior issues. students.

Lee said he was getting older and ready for a change, with classroom teaching becoming more difficult. He felt his strengths as a teacher lay in his ability to make students feel safe and comfortable and to make them realize they had the skills to learn the material. He likes to build trusting relationships.

“I had the degrees and it was the right time,” Lee said. “I like the behavioral side of teaching. I’m classy and I’m really good at building relationships.

Lee still teaches basic academic subjects and his students still spend most of their time in their regular classrooms. But when the environment becomes too loud and distracting and they need a break, they go to see Lee or his colleague, teacher Adrianne Canestrari, who is new to the Norwich district.

Students have just completed what Lee described as a “very challenging year” for many young students, as schools resumed full-time in-person learning after a year of blended distance and in-person learning at the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said his students did better last year, with fewer students and a quieter environment during blended learning, when half of the students were learning remotely each day.

“This year you have kids who haven’t been to school for almost three years,” Lee said. “From kindergarten to grade three, all of these fundamental social skills are lost. They left. Everyone is anxious. Everyone is frustrated. Everyone is confused.

Lee said he felt “humbled and honoured” to be named Norwich Teacher of the Year this year. But he said the award really belongs to the staff at Stanton and across the district. Lee was also named Veteran Teacher of the Year for the 2019-20 school year.

“We don’t have a lot of resources, but we’re doing a great job with what we have,” Lee said. “I think sometimes the older generations don’t understand that it’s different now. All different. Social media is different, kids are different. Education is different.

Lee, who graduated from Ledyard High School in 1998, received his bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Salve Regina University in 2002 and a master’s degree in special education from Southern Connecticut State University in 2014. He continued his studies with a sixth-year degree in educational leadership at Southern in 2019.

He developed a love of school and a passion for teaching as a student at William A. Buckingham School in Norwich, where he attended the brand new Integrated Day Program which combined Years Five and Six. with teacher Joan Heffernan. Later it developed the separate integrated day charter school in Norwich.

Lee wrote in his biography submitted to the Teacher of the Year selection committee that Heffernan “made school fun.” He learned the importance of allowing students to initiate their learning experience, rather than simply having them listen to a teacher at the front of the room.

“I really felt those years were academically memorable, and I credit that to him,” Lee wrote of Heffernan. “I vividly remember Mrs. Heffernan allowing us to choose research topics and select books based on our interests. … Looking back, I feel like she was way ahead of her time and had a way of connecting with her students both professionally and personally.

Lee and his wife, Rebecca Atkins, live in New London with their French bulldog, Otis. Atkins is a former teacher at the State Department of Developmental Services and The Lighthouse vocational school in New London.

Four years ago, the couple decided to use their parenting and relationship-building skills in another way. They became foster parents for children temporarily removed from their biological families. Lee said he and his wife had made it clear to the state Department of Children and Families that they were not interested in adopting the children, but instead wanted to focus on the possibility. for them to return home.

They have welcomed six children so far, taking a break recently as Atkins has just started a new job.

“Almost all of our adopted children have been our students or had relationships with our students. All have returned to live with their families. We are very committed to reunification.

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