Teacher of the Year brings joy to the classroom

Magical. That is the word that Maggie York uses to describe what it is like teaching pre-K students at St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick.

“It truly feels like magic sometimes with the stuff that you can do here and when you see their eyes light up,” she says. “They have so much joy. They love learning.”

York considers herself fortunate because she says she has a job that she enjoys going to every day.

“I do love coming to work,” she says. “It’s like a family in the building, which some people don’t believe, but it is truly like a family.”

York has been part of the St. John’s family for most of her life. She attended school there from first through eighth grade and has been teaching there for the past nine years. It was her first job after earning a degree from the University of Maine at Farmington.

“I saw that St. John’s was hiring, and it was for the third grade, and I had just finished student teaching in the third grade, and it was like, ‘I’ve got to go.’ And I’ve been there ever since,” she says. “I’ve always loved St. John’s. It has always been a very special place.”

While she started off teaching third grade, when Principal Shelly Wheeler approached her about shifting to pre-K, she decided to make the move. She says one of the things that she likes best about teaching the youngest students is the opportunity to make their first school experience a positive and memorable one.

“I try to make it as magical and fun as I can,” she says. “I want the kids to love and to be excited about coming to school.”

It is why you might see her at school on a weekend creating a solar system or turning a refrigerator box into a fire station.

“When we talked about what kind of community helpers are in the area, we talked about what we would want to turn our pretend area into. We can do all these big transformations in our pretend area, so we turned it into a fire station. We painted a big refrigerator box red and had a burning building, so just some fun things that you can incorporate into the classroom. Right now, it’s a grocery store because we are learning about the human body and healthy choices, and we’re going to be doing space next month, and we’ll make a big rocket ship and hang planets from the ceiling, so it’s really fun,” she says.

The joy and creativity that York brings to her classroom are among the reasons that she was selected as the 2024 Maine Catholic School Teacher of the Year.

“Mrs. York’s classroom is indescribable. She is routinely changing stations and themes throughout the year, which is guided by student choice,” wrote Principal Wheeler in nominating York for the award. “Mrs. York is an exceptional teacher who takes care to not only prepare each student for future success but cultivates an atmosphere of positivity as students start their educational journey with a love for school.”

The award was presented to York by Bishop Robert Deeley during a school assembly held in February during Catholic Schools Week. York says when she realized someone had been chosen as Teacher of the Year, she immediately turned to Kathleen Curry, the 2019 recipient of the award, believing she was being honored again. Instead, she heard her own name being read.

“I didn’t expect it at all. It blew me away. It still feels very weird. It doesn’t feel real,” she says.

York says being chosen for the award is a tremendous honor because of the quality of the teachers with whom she works.

“I work with really, really great teachers, and everybody has their skills and strengths and special qualities that they bring to the school, so it’s nice to be recognized,” she says. “I’m a little humbled, too, because I think, sometimes, there are things I could be doing better.”

There are, however, plenty of things she does well.

“She is a pillar of our community. From attending weekly Sunday Mass at St. John’s Church on the school campus to taking part, or organizing, each and every school wide event, Mrs. York has undoubtedly earned the respect of all the school and parish families in our community,” says Principal Wheeler. “As a parent in her classroom, I am deeply impressed with Maggie’s constant communication with families to ensure continuity between lessons at home and at school, both academic and behavioral.”

York says as a parent herself, she understands and takes seriously the trust they are placing in her.

“I have appreciation for the parents who are sending their kids to me. It’s a big deal for them. I like working with the parents of these first-time students because it’s a new experience for them, too. Every year, I’m like, ‘Oh, I love the parents.’ I have the best parents every year. They’re so wonderful,” says York.

York says she is grateful to her own parents for sending her to St. John’s Catholic School when she was growing up. She says many of the friendships she made then, remain today.

“My maid of honor at my wedding was my friend whom I met here and whom I’ve known since first grade. I still have friends whom I see at church on the weekends,” she says.

Another gift that St. John’s and her parents gave her is her deep faith. Although she remembers not always wanting to go to Mass when she was a child, her parents insisted. She still remembers what her father told her.

“I remember Dad specifically saying, ‘You know, you can watch an hour of TV at home any day of the week. You can play with your friends anytime. Taking an hour of your week to go to Mass to be thankful to God for what you have, that is nothing.’”

Although her father passed away when she was in high school, she says even to this day, her mom, who converted to Catholicism, sends her friendly reminders.

“My mom is the one who texts me and my brother to say, ‘Don’t forget there is a holy day of obligation coming up. I just wanted you to know,” York says.

Tears come to her eyes as she reflects on the gratitude that she feels for the faith foundation her parents gave her.

“I’m so thankful because God comes first in everything. That was the lesson I was taught, not just by my parents but here at St. John’s, too, so that is what I’m trying to teach my own children and my students,” she says.

York says the benefit of a Catholic education is that faith is ever present, no matter which lesson you are teaching.

“We learned about polar animals, and we talked about polar bears and how polar bears are very special, that God made them in a special way so that they can survive where they are. We talked about all the special gifts that God gave polar bears, like that they have small ears because if He gave them big ears, they would freeze. So, we talked about how God has this amazing plan,” she says. “We can talk about God in everything, which is amazing. We can say, ‘Jesus wants us to love each other. He made you, and He made you, and He made me.’”

York says much would be lost without our Catholic schools. She says if people don’t realize their value, they should stop by for a visit.

“There are teachers who care and really love their students and want the best for them,” she says. “It is really amazing. It might be expensive for some people, but it’s so worth it. Look at me. I have been here since first grade, and I won’t leave.”


Maggie York reading to students.
Maggie York holding up a book.
Maggie York
Maggie York with the Teacher of the Year Award