AUGUSTA — Lawrence High School student Samantha Wilson’s first interaction with biology and anatomy teacher Eric Brown occurred one day during her English class.

“Some crazy guy in Crocs paraded into our class with a line of students behind him, all carrying an intestine from an animal,” Wilson wrote in a letter nominating Brown as county teacher of the year. “He is the life of the school.”

Brown was named Somerset County Teacher of the Year during a ceremony Thursday afternoon at the Maine State House that honored teachers from all 16 counties in Maine. The group represents the county finalists for Maine Teacher of the Year.

Messalonskee High School English teacher Lisette Bordes won the Kennebec County award; and elementary teacher Allison Warman, of Rangeley Lakes School, was the honoree from Franklin County.

Wilson, a junior, wrote that she nominated Brown because he is one of the most inspiring people she’s ever met and, by far, the most influential teacher she’s ever had.

“He’s smart enough to be a surgeon, yet he’s proud to be a teacher,” Wilson wrote in the letter. “He is always excited about what he is teaching and loves to share his knowledge.”

Brown has an undergraduate degree in physical education and a master’s degree in sports medicine. He’s been teaching for 25 years and started at Lawrence 23 years ago.

After more than two decades at the same school, Brown said he blends education and entertainment to keep things fresh in the classroom, both for himself and his students.

“I tend to get into my job,” he said. “You have to be comfortable in your own skin in front of 25 teenagers, and you have to be willing and vulnerable to try new techniques.”

Most important, Brown said, showing passion about the subject is the best way to get the students engaged in learning.

“It’s a little cliche, but I’m a firm believer that the students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he said. “Once you give them that sense, the rest tends to fall into place.”

Brown was joined at the ceremony by members of his family, including his wife and daughter Molly, who is scheduled to graduate Saturday from the education program at the University of Maine at Farmington.

While an athlete can look at statistics to see if he or she is having a good year, teachers don’t have as many tangible ways to measure success. Brown said he didn’t sit in class and think he was having a “Teacher of the Year-type” year. He hopes he’s been teaching like this in years past and hopes he’ll continue teaching the same way in the future.

“I just try to do the best I can every day with what I have, and even though you may have struggled in the morning getting to work or had some other issue, when you get in front of the kids, you have to be ready to go,” he said.

He said even though he’s now a teacher of the year, he doesn’t think he’ll second-guess any teaching decisions if he doesn’t win the award next year. Whether it was in 1994 in his first year at Lawrence or in 2017 in his 23rd year, the goal is the same.

“Every day and every year you just want to inspire kids to want to come back to your classroom,” Brown said. “My mindset says I’m so fortunate to be in front of the kids to get them to realize they can be whatever they want to be if they work hard for it.”

Each teacher was nominated by a member of the teacher’s community and chosen by a panel of teachers, principals and business community members. Each of those honored Thursday was nominated by a member of their community for exemplary service in education and dedication to their students, according to a news release from the Maine Department of Education.

Bordes, a 10-year teaching veteran who’s been at Messalonskee for three years, was nominated by Messalonskee principal Paula Callan. Callan said Bordes has a way of blending instruction with facilitation that is flawless.

“When you walk into Lisette’s classes, you feel like you’re a part of it,” Callan said. “Through her nonconfrontational demeanor, she can get the most struggling student to become engaged and successful in their learning.”

The teacher said she didn’t expect to win and was honored to be nominated.

“I feel like I’m really honoring and representing my colleagues and people I work with at school who I collaborate with,” Bordes said. “It’s hard to think about this as a competition.”

She said she doesn’t think she did anything different from what she had done in her previous years as a teacher, and she gave credit to a “really great group of students” who make it fun to go to work every day.

“It’s hard to figure out if there’s something that’s changed, but I guess I was in the right place at the right time,” Bordes said. “I hope that I’m always improving, and this was a good chance to reflect on what I’ve been doing.”

The nomination and award process has given her a chance to look at her progress since she became a teacher, and Bordes said she took the time to examine whether she’s accomplishing everything she wanted to accomplish.

“I can imagine changing and improving on some aspects of my teaching,” the Messalonskee teacher said. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and even practiced it (when I was a child).”

One of the biggest reasons for continuing to push to grow as a teacher, Bordes said, is her colleagues and the atmosphere at her school.

“They make it fun and we make it fun, and they’re people I really respect and like,” she said. “I think the students can tell we really like it, which helps improve the culture in our classroom.”

Rangeley Lakes Principal Charles Brown said Warman puts the needs of the children first and is a forerunner in the movement to a proficiency-based system. She has implemented it in her class and worked with other teachers throughout the transition.

“Whether it be academic, emotional or social, Allison advocates for her students and works with her students to achieve the best results,” Brown said.

Other counties’ honorees included Nesrene Griffin, Governor James Longley School, Androscoggin County; Leslie Marquis, Fort Kent Community School, Aroostook; Brooke Teller, Casco Bay High School, Cumberland; Marielle Edgecomb, The Peninsula School, Hancock; Iris Eichenlaub, Camden Hills Regional High School, Knox; Christopher Coleman, Great Salt Bay Community School, Lincoln; Janet Harriman, Sacopee Valley High School, Oxford; Kasie Giallombardo, Nokomis High School, Penobscot; Kaitlin Young, SeDoMoCha Elementary School, Piscataquis; John Dever, Mt. Ararat High School, Sagadahoc; Christi Goosman, Searsport District High School, Waldo; Rhonda Stevens, Beatrice Rafferty School, Washington; and Jen England, Noble High School, York.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ