Kelsey Stoyanova: Two-time UMaine alum and current graduate student named 2022 Maine Teacher of the Year

Kelsey Stoyanova remembers when it hit her that she’d been named 2022 Maine Teacher of Year. It was when she was entering the gym at Hampden’s Reeds Brook Middle School for an assembly where the big announcement was taking place. As the eighth-grade band played the opening chords of “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, Stoyanova walked into the assembly, raised her hands in the air, and took a moment to celebrate.

“I knew it could happen, but that’s when I realized that it really did happen,” says Stoyanova, an eighth-grade English teacher at Reeds Brook.

Typically, the Maine Teacher of the Year announcement is supposed to be a surprise. But before the assembly, Stoyanova says there were a few hints that something was up. The first hint was the assembly itself. Since COVID-19, Reeds Brook — like schools everywhere — has avoided most in-person gatherings. So, when her students started coming up to her to ask if she’d won, she had her suspicions.

“They were like, ‘In the gym, there’s balloons and banners and programs on the chairs.’ That’s when I first thought something was happening,” she says.

The assembly itself was kind of a blur. Stoyanova says it was special to have her family there for the announcement, including her husband and three-year-old son, as well as her parents and grandparents. Her high school speech teacher, former state Rep. Tori Kornfield, who had urged her to become a teacher, was there as well. Then came the speeches from her students.

“They were just so phenomenal, it was an amazing day,” she says.

Stoyanova was named 2021 Penobscot County Teacher of the Year in May. Later she was named a semi-finalist and ultimately a finalist for Maine Teacher of the Year. The assembly announcing her as the winner took place on Oct. 13, about three weeks after she and other finalists had their interviews with the selection committee in Augusta.

Long before any of that, however, Stoyanova was an aspiring veterinarian, growing up in Bangor and graduating from Bangor High School before entering the University of Maine as a pre-vet major with designs on working with large animals. But after just a semester she remembered a talk she’d had during her junior year of high school with Kornfield, who told her that with her ability to listen and relate to people, she would be an outstanding teacher.

“Mrs. K, Tori, is 110% the reason I am a teacher right now. She put the bug in my ear, and I made the switch to secondary education. It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” says Stoyanova. “I really do feel like I was born to do this job.”

As an undergrad, Stoyanova did her student teaching at Reeds Brook before graduating in 2014 and getting a full-time job at the school. A few years later, when she was in just her second year of teaching, she decided to return to UMaine for a master’s degree in literacy education.

“As a second-year teacher, you’re still learning the ropes, you’re still figuring things out. But I was comfortable going into it, because I knew I’d be supported by the same people who already supported me in my undergrad,” she says.

As part of her master’s, Stoyanova participated in the Maine Writing Project, a summer professional development and leadership institute for writers and writing teachers that is part of the National Writing Project. She went through the program with her best friend, Brooke Libby, whom she had met as an undergrad, and who now teaches at Messalonskee Middle School. Through the program she also got to know other teachers from around the state who have become trusted confidants and colleagues.

“The third-grade teacher from Hermon or the seventh-grade teacher from Winslow, who’s now teaching at Maranacook High School. We had everyone from college professors down to kindergarten teachers in our group,” she says. “We all came together as teachers, and we left as confident writers. The relationships we formed are some of the strongest in my life today, and I credit UMaine for that.”

Stoyanova is currently pursuing yet another degree from UMaine. She’s part of the Maine Educational Leadership Academy cohort, a group of teachers from around the state who are working toward their educational specialist (Ed.S.) degrees. She and Reeds Brook social studies teacher Jason Kash, another fellow UMaine alum, are part of the cohort together. The university, she says, does a great job of encouraging students to pursue individual goals, but with a collective goal in mind.

“We get to be part of a wonderful community of educational leaders in Maine,” she says. “To be part of that small, trusted group and to have that community feel, that’s what brought me back a third time.”

Already active on social media, where she posts on Instagram and Twitter under the handle @mainelymiddle, Stoyanova says she looks forward to having an even bigger platform from which to champion education-related causes as Maine Teacher of the Year. One of her priorities will be promoting culturally responsive teaching, which recognizes the importance of understanding and incorporating students’ cultural backgrounds and references in all aspects of their learning. As part of that, she is interested in advocating for programs and practices that allow students’ and teachers’ voices to be heard. Finally, as an English teacher, she’s a proponent of independent reading programs that encourage kids to read books that reflect diverse cultures and lifestyles, and to do so in a way that is relevant to their interests.

“Having this platform is going to be all about sharing stories,” Stoyanova says. “Whether we’re talking about what’s happening in classrooms, or in our students lives, I’m excited to be seen and heard by people who otherwise wouldn’t get to see and hear from teachers or educators.”

Why UMaine?
For me, it’s about home. I’m a very family-oriented person. I was the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year college and being close to home was very important. Then coming back for my master’s and now my Ed.S., it’s so easy, because I already kept up with all my professors. It just feels like family and like coming home.

Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who made your UMaine experience better, and if so, who and how?
I’ll give you three names. The first is Rich Kent (professor emeritus of literacy). He taught me during my undergrad and was my adviser during my master’s program. I see the impact he’s made on his students’ lives and the impact they’ve made on his life. That’s a big part of what we try to do as teachers is have those reciprocal relationships with our students.

Second is Joanie Speyer, who was our field experience supervisor when we were in the trenches, student teaching. She was absolutely pivotal during my undergrad. I was always an organized person, but Joanie taught me to be even more organized. She also taught me how to advocate for myself and for my students, as well as how to be reflective in my teaching.

Finally, Ian Mette (associate professor of educational leadership), who has been an incredible support to me in my educational leadership journey. He’s always there to offer me resources and support and conversation. His educational philosophy that as teachers we’re meant to be facilitators not directors, really meshes with my own. He’s also very much in tune with the needs of educators. He has such great empathy for us, and I really appreciate that about him.

Have you had an experience at UMaine — either academically or socially — that changed or shaped the way you see the world?
That would definitely be the Maine Writing Project. It was such an amazing experience both personally and professionally, because not only was I able to take away skills or activities that I could use in my classroom, but confidence in myself as a writer. The end result is you get published in the “Maine Writes” journal, and that’s a big deal. To be able to have confidence in myself as a writer made it so I could come back to my students and say: “This is what it means to be part of a community that cares.” You also get opportunities for leadership, to grow as you go through the program — you start as a fellow, you end as a mentor. So, the Maine Writing Project really places value on the people who are part of it. 

What’s the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine?
There’s been so many — three different degrees worth. But definitely the Maine Writing Project classes. Also, during my master’s, one class that I took with Rich Kent was a seminar in poetry. It was an experience I’ll never forget. We built a community of people who wanted to immerse themselves in the reading, writing and facilitation of poetry. It was a short, summer course, in July, and I just remember we sat at this roundtable and we each were responsible for bringing a poet and their poetry to discuss with the class. We also modeled different types of poetry. It was just a really rejuvenating, cathartic experience.

What difference has UMaine made in your life?
When it comes down to it, UMaine has encouraged me to develop my skills to be the best me that I can be. It’s allowed me to determine what those skills are, and then supported me in that journey, whether it’s personally as a student and a writer, professionally as a teacher and educational leader, and socially it’s given me opportunities to connect with some of my closest friends and trusted colleagues.

What is your most memorable UMaine moment?
 The Write Here, Write Now conference in 2018 where I presented is probably my most memorable moment. I got to share something that I was really proud of with other people, but I also got to see what other people were passionate about and take things away from that. I got to see the pride that everyone felt on that day.

Describe UMaine in one word.
I’m going to give you two words because I’m an overachiever: Opportunity and community.

Contact: Casey Kelly, 581.3751;