DERRY — Pinkerton Academy social studies teacher Joseph Lee doesn’t even consider himself the best teacher in his own department. But yesterday, he received an honor much bigger than that.
Lee, 29, was named the 2014 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year by the state Department of Education.
“I’m still shaking,” Lee said after he was surprised with the award in front of 3,000 students at Pinkerton’s fall pep rally. “It’s a range of emotions. I’m overwhelmed.”
Lee was one of 36 teachers in the state nominated for the award.
“Comparing me to the other 35 teachers, I kind of wrote it off immediately,” Lee said. “I thought it would be a nice activity and then I’d go on to my regular job.”
Instead, Lee will represent New Hampshire as the state’s candidate for the National Teacher of the Year.
“He truly exemplifies what we want with education found in the classroom,” said Cindy Chagnon, a member of the state Board of Education.
In addition to being a social studies teacher, he is the head golf and ice hockey coach at Pinkerton. He also is the co-director of Pinkerton’s China Exchange program.
Lee was nominated in February by Beverly Lannan, Pinkerton’s Dean of Faculty. Lee received an application in the mail, and wrote a couple essays about his teaching methods.
“A teacher is a leader,” Lee wrote. “A teacher must recognize the unique characteristics and strengths of each student, and work to hone their strengths and overcome their challenges.”
Leadership is also the first thing that came to mind of Eric Byrne, a senior tri-captain on Pinkerton’s golf team.
“He’s just such a great leader,” Byrne said. “He is definitely someone who deserves this award.”
In August, Lee was named a semi-finalist, which led to more essays and interviews with the Department of Education. Department officials observed Lee at Pinkerton and interviewed colleagues, parents and students.
“He’s an enthusiastic, energetic and a wonderful teacher,” Pinkerton headmaster Mary Anderson said. “The kids like him, he relates the class materials to their level and he’s just a really deserving person for this.”
Lee said he takes a humanitarian approach in his teaching.
“I try and relate to the students and try to establish mutually respecful and honest relationships with each of my students,” he said. “It’s something I truly take to heart. I hope the students see the effort I put into each class and I hope they reciprocate that with the same effort, respect and honesty.”
As the New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, Lee will have the opportunity to attend the National Teacher of the Year Conference in Arizona in January and the National Teacher of the Year Announcement Ceremony in Washington, D.C, next April.
“It’s going to be a great year,” Lee said. “One of my goals is to grow as an educator. This is just going to expand the amount of people I can brainstorm with and share ideas with, both around the state and around the world.”