A Laconia High School English teacher has been named the state’s top educator.
Tate Aldrich was named the New Hampshire Teacher of the Year at a surprise ceremony at the school Friday.
Aldrich has been teaching English for eight years, all of them at Laconia High School, which also happens to be his alma mater.
Tate Aldrich joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about the award.
What was your reaction when you learned you won?
Well, it’s strange. I don’t think any teacher strives to achieve recognition, but it’s an honor and of course, with honor comes responsibility. I’m just excited to represent my city and my state in the national Teacher of the Year competition.
You grew up in Laconia, graduated from Laconia High School, and now live and teach there. There’s been a lot of talk about encouraging young professionals to stay and work in New Hampshire.
Why did you choose to teach in your hometown?
I chose to teach here because I love Laconia so much. I have to say Laconia is a great place. More than ever, we have adults and teachers working together to support kids and I’m happy to be a part of that.
In choosing you for the award, the selection committee highlighted your ability to connect with students and help them achieve at high levels, regardless of background.
What’s been your approach to teaching, particularly in terms of breaking through the achievement gap, something that’s been an issue for schools for decades?
I have to admit that being from Laconia gives me an advantage I think. So I have some unique insight into how kids from Laconia think. And Laconia’s a really interesting place, economically diverse. And I think I use that insight to establish meaningful relationships with each kid.
You were also praised not just for the work you do at the school, but your involvement in the community. You’re part of a group called “Stand Up Laconia,” which is working to combat substance abuse.
How important is that kind of community involvement to you?
It’s really important. “Stand Up Laconia,” like you said, does work to combat substance abuse. “Got Lunch” is another organization that I work with. Over 60 percent of our student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch. And “Got Lunch” works to feed those children over the summer. It’s really for me just about serving the community. As a teacher, I’ve learned over the years that each community has different needs. So I think in being a part of those two organizations, I’m fulfilling my obligations beyond the curriculum.
Recent studies have shown teens aren’t reading for fun as much as they used to. As an English teacher, why do you think that is?
I would agree. They may not be reading literature as frequently as you or I did growing up, but I would argue that they’re probably reading more characters per day, and I mean like 140 at a time. I think although much of what they read on social media is probably insidious, I think that primes them to understand the power of language. And so when I get them in the classroom, I think the experience is probably much more fulfilling.
Teaching is often described as a thankless, but rewarding job. In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge facing teachers right now?
I think the biggest challenge facing teachers right now is a degree of distrust that exists in some communities between public schools and the people they serve. As New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, I’m an ambassador for education in the state, but I think it’s incumbent upon all teachers to serve as ambassadors and connect and engage and listen to communities, because, like I said, all communities have different needs.