Award-winning teachers Kaley Brown, left, a social studies teacher at Skowhegan Area High School, and her mother Debora Tanner, a math instructor at Skowhegan Area Middle School, are shown Wednesday in Brown’s classroom in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — Growing up in Skowhegan, Kaley Brown always wanted to be a teacher like many others in her family.

Award-winning teachers Debora Tanner, a math instructor at Skowhegan Area Middle School, left, and her daughter Kaley Brown, a social studies teacher at Skowhegan Area High School, are shown Wednesday in Brown’s classroom in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

After graduating from Skowhegan Area High School, Brown first studied teaching at the University of Maine in Farmington, but then transferred to Thomas College to study marketing and later earned a master’s degree in business.

“I kind of fought it for a bit,” said Brown, 32. “I wanted to do a different path.”

But it wasn’t long before Brown was back in a classroom in the town where she grew up.

“I have made my own path,” Brown said, “but it’s in teaching.”

Earlier this month, Brown was named the Somerset County Teacher of the Year, a recognition handed out each year among awards in each of Maine’s 16 counties.


More than 600 educators from across the state were nominated for the awards, which are administered in partnership with the organization Educate Maine according to the Department of Education.

Brown joins a growing list of award-winning educators in the family. Brown’s mother, Debora Tanner, who has worked as a math teacher at Skowhegan Area Middle School since 1987, won the same award in 2015.

Tanner’s sister, Linda Pease, principal at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, was named the 2024 Maine Principal of the Year in April. Her brother, Andrew Dolloff, currently superintendent of schools in Yarmouth, was named Maine Superintendent of the Year in 2020.

Tanner’s father also was a teacher and principal, and her other daughter is a middle school teacher in Bangor.

“We’re definitely educators,” said Tanner, 65. “I knew when I was a little girl that I wanted to be a teacher. It was part of our life. We went to school with dad on the weekends, and it was, you know, just part of us.”

For Brown, the switch back to the classroom was prompted less by her family, and more by her passion for working with youth. With her business background, Brown once aimed to start a nonprofit to advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. But Brown realized she could reach more students in the classroom.


“They are some of the greatest humans and I learn from them every day,” Brown said. “And I think they don’t get enough credit for being as amazing as they are.”

After two years as an ed tech, Brown began teaching business classes at Skowhegan. This year, her sixth year as a teacher, Brown switched to teaching social studies after the departure of a close friend and colleague.

In her time at Skowhegan, Brown has created courses, including sports history, sports management and law, all of which she said are popular among students. Brown also is an advisor to the student council and to a student-led mental health group, she said.

Brown’s classroom stands out from the typical high school classroom — and not just because of its odd layout as a former computer lab. The walls are covered in posters, some with inspirational messages. And instead of rows of desks, one corner has “flexible seating” like bean bags and bungee chairs, which her mother has added to her own classroom, too.

The classroom setup goes in line with Brown’s philosophy as a teacher.

“I always say that I’m a human first, teacher and everything else is secondary, because how can you learn and process new information when you’re not doing well as a human?” Brown said. “So, I work hard to make their learning pretty seamless and try to make them enjoy learning by getting to know them by building trust and relationships with them.”


Tanner, who said she and Brown frequently talk about teaching, said Brown’s compassion is what makes her a great teacher.

“These kids know she cares about them so much,” Tanner said. “It’s amazing what she’s done here in the short time that she’s been here and the connections that she’s made with kids.”

After Tanner won the award in 2015, she started the “Sweet Dreams Project” as a way to give back to the Skowhegan area. The project, based at the Skowhegan Federated Church on Island Avenue, provides Christmas gifts to hundreds of children in the community each holiday season.

For Brown, who lives in Skowhegan, winning the award is an opportunity to show off that community to the rest of the state — and the world.

“That’s really important to me because I grew up here, I went to school here, and my community is so important to me,” Brown said. “Being able to just show the world how great this place is, and how great the people are, is really special for me.”

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