AUGUSTA — Emotional letters for two area teachers nominated for teacher of the year illustrate how both are valued by their students, other teachers, principals and parents.

Latin teacher Richard Lent of Leavitt Area High School in Turner and special ed teacher Shannon Shanning of the Whittier Middle School in Poland are two of five semifinalists in the Maine Teacher of the Year contest.

Some of Lent’s tributes are that he generates excitement, is warm, shares silly jokes, works to help students in multiple ways and gives chocolate when needed, according to nomination letters on his behalf.

Leavitt Principal Eben Shaw said that while some consider Latin a less than exciting subject, Lent “creates a dedicated following with his students.” It begins before students are in high school, Shaw said. “When Mr. Lent goes on a recruiting mission in the spring to speak with eighth-graders.”

Fellow teacher Kerri Becker wrote that Lent is passionate about his students and proves it every day. He looks the part of a Latin teacher, “serious, austere,” wears a scholarly beard and carries around stacks of booklets, she said. But he’s greatly respected and admired, Becker said.

Students love his sense of humor. He might jokingly ask students to quiet down “so he can hear the voices inside his head,” or share silly stories with silly puns, Becker said.

Leavitt senior Erica Lance said her father had Lent in school, and told her he was “the best teacher I could ask for.” She found that out for herself, Lance said. In the middle of the year she was discouraged by her heavy course load. She joked to Lent that chocolate would probably cheer her up. He leaned over her desk, smiled, and left a chocolate bar.

“Those little nuances of his show he loves to teach and truly cares about his students,” Lance said. He encourages students to do well, she said, adding she’ll never forget the things he says, including, “That it isn’t about getting into Harvard, ‘it’s about being able to tell them no.’”

At the Whittier Middle School in Poland, Principal Ayesha Farag-Davis wrote that Shannon Shanning is a special educator in a self-contained classroom who has great power to connect and engage with students.

“Many of her students have developed a sense of themselves as incapable and helpless as learners,” Farag-Davis said. Shannon meets each student where they’re at, helps them develop goals, provides the instruction, encouragement “And occasional kick in the pants necessary to help them achieve their goals.”

The principal spoke of one special ed student who moved from a nearby town and had a history of being defiant and sometimes violent. Shanning welcomed him. Her “warmth, consistency and confident in him had an immediately impact,” Farag-Davis wrote.

His mother was teary-eyed at the first progress meeting when told of the boy’s success in Shannon’s classroom, Farag-Davis said. “It’s not the first time parents have cried tears of joy and gratitude for the time and energy Shannon puts in with their kids.”

A Poland couple wrote that their grandson had a traumatic brain injury which left him in special education with behavioral problems. He had low self esteem, little self control and often came home from school in tears or vowing never to return. After he became one of Shannon’s students, “Most days now he comes home with a smile and tells us what a good day he has had.”

After class visits and more scrutiny, the Maine Teacher of the Year for 2013 will be announced in September, according to the Department of Education.

Richard Lent nomination letter Shannon Shanning nomination letter

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