LISBON — Philip W. Sugg Middle School teacher Nicole Sautter was named the Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year last week, making her a finalist for the Maine Teacher of the Year recognition.

Nicole Sautter, a teacher at Philip W. Sugg Middle School in Lisbon, has been named Androscoggin County’s teacher of the year. Submitted photo

The 16 county teachers of the year were nominated for their exemplary service in education and dedication to their students, according to the Maine Department of Education, which administers the program. Winners were selected by a panel of teachers, principals and business community members from a pool of hundreds of teachers in their communities.

Ryan McKenney, the principal of Philip W. Sugg Middle School, said he nominated Sautter for her instructional leadership and her commitment and dedication to her students’ physical and mental well-being.

“Nicole was born and raised in Lisbon, her children thrived in our schools and her consistent presence in town is the lifeblood through which countless pillars of the community are held up and brought together,” he wrote in an email Monday. “She will seek out the hardest situation, the student in greatest need, even the sport that has no coach and she will be there to fill that need. Her laser focus is on finding solutions not on highlighting problems.”

Sautter, 47, has been teaching for 15 years at Lisbon School Department. She’s taught several age groups ranging from grades three through eight, but found her groove as a seventh-grade social studies and language arts teacher.

Now a mentor to new teachers, Sautter said teaching didn’t come naturally to her in the beginning. An introvert, Sautter remembers being terrified of teaching in a third-grade classroom as a sophomore at the University of Maine at Farmington. The teacher supervising her noted on an evaluation that she lacked a voice for the classroom.

“I was crushed,” she said.

But another instructor encouraged her and believed in her.

“Once I started believing in myself, that I could be an agent of change, and maybe convince people, ‘you’re external circumstances in life don’t direct you,'” Sautter said.

She strives to lift up and build confidence in her seventh-graders, who are naturally withdrawn and guarded at that age. She’s found her students have amazing insights and are capable of more than they could ever realize, “and that’s why I love it,” she said. “They are independent but they still need you a little bit.”

With her students learning from home due to the coronavirus pandemic closing school buildings, Sautter said she’s being careful not to assign too much school work. Students are resilient but struggling socially and emotionally with the isolation just as adults are, she said. Taking care of her students emotionally is her biggest focus.

“I just want to make sure you’re OK,” she tells them. “I miss you like crazy and I love you lots.”

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