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Editorial: Honoring a teacher’s teacher

Anne Marie Bettencourt and Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester.

Anne Marie Bettencourt and Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. Purchase photo reprints »

Today at the Statehouse in Boston, education officials will recognize the top public school teacher in Massachusetts — and she happens to live in Hatfield. Anne Marie Bettencourt, 31, has been named the 2013 Teacher of the Year for her work with ninth-graders in her English classes at Springfield Central High School.

Bettencourt is the state’s 52nd recipient of this award and automatically becomes the state’s candidate for the National Teacher of the Year Program.

What makes Bettencourt’s story special is how much her career choice and successful work with young people is a product of her story and the influence that teachers had on her as she grew up.

In an interview with the Gazette, Bettencourt said her home life as a child in New Bedford was difficult and doing well in school became her prime focus. Good teachers inspired her to write. Her writing not only became an outlet for frustrations with life at home, but bolstered her self-confidence and determination.

She applies those lessons to motivate and inspire her students. According to Springfield school officials, in 2012, more than 90 percent of students Bettencourt taught moved on to the 10th grade, compared to roughly 50 percent of ninth-graders across the district.

Students say they look forward to being in her classroom. One of her students this year took top honors in a statewide poetry competition.

Mitchell Chester, state commissioner of education, said Bettencourt understands how much good a teacher can do.

The Teacher of the Year recognition was started in 1960. According to the state education department, the goal is to “select a teacher who is worthy of speaking for and energizing the teaching profession, and representing the positive contributions of all teachers statewide.” There is an extensive screening process, critiques of classroom performance, interviews and required essays on teaching philosophy as well as community involvement.

Bettencourt has a published book, “Teaching in the Real World: Strategies to Survive and Thrive,” based on a journal she kept during her days as a student teacher in Springfield.

For the past three years, Bettencourt has also served as a mentor for student teachers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Springfield College. She works with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local initiative to improve learning in schools by bringing together educators to deepen their individual and collective experiences as writers.

Bettencourt joins other Pioneer Valley teachers as recipients of this prestigious award.

In 2010 Wilma Ortiz, a teacher of English as a second language at Amherst Regional Middle School, was named teacher of the year. In 2008 Michael Flynn, a math and science teacher at the William E. Norris School in Southampton, was recognized, and in 1998, Bruce Penniman, now retired as a teacher of English at Amherst Regional High School, was honored.

At a time of year when students are saying thanks to their teachers, the commonwealth celebrates one of its very best to say thanks to the profession as a whole — and to hold up a model to emulate. Anne Marie Bettencourt deserves the recognition and serves as a sterling role model for other educators.

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