By Dora Thompson
When Kristen Kelley got offered a housesitting job on Islesboro, she thought she’d have a brief island adventure with her two daughters, whom she was homeschooling in Hawaii at the time. They’d enjoy the Atlantic Ocean, experience the seasons and have a refreshing five-month vacation.
Four-and-a-half years later, Kelley is still on the island, a teacher at the Islesboro Central School. And she is succeeding, as evidenced by her nomination for the Waldo County Teacher of the Year award.
Kelley grew up in New Hampshire, so she had some nostalgia for New England.
“I always knew I’d end up on the coast of Maine, because it’s my favorite place in the world,” she said.
Kelley holds a B.A. in English from Vassar College and an M.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She started at the island school when a long-term substitute-teaching job opened up and has been teaching English in the historic stone mansion that houses the school ever since.
The student body is at about 96, including Kelley’s own daughters. Classes usually have about ten students in each. Students at Islesboro Central School have a history of scoring high on state testing, and graduates go on to attend top colleges. The island also boasts of having actively involved parents and staff.
“I love the family and community atmosphere, which embraced my kids from pretty much the moment of our arrival,” Kelley said.
Her teaching style also is very personal. She hones in on students’ learning levels, and tries to challenge them based on that.
“They feel the benefit of their engagement in their work and see it resulting in success,” said Kelley. “Education is highly individualized.”
Jane Cady is the parent who nominated Kelley for the Waldo County Teacher of the Year Award.
“[She] goes above and beyond her job description to make sure that each of her students is reaching his or her full potential,” Cady wrote.
Bella Dejoy, a student at the school who loves reading and writing, also praised her teacher.
“Ms. Kelley is a knowledgeable teacher who puts her entire self into everything she does,” said Dejoy. “She is also very kind and teaches subjects in interesting and engaging ways.”
Kelley’s English classes spring from her love for literature and writing. One of her favorite classes was the recent “Nature Writing” course that she taught in collaboration with fellow teacher Jon Kerr. She called it an “explorative, connection-making wonder.”
Teaching at the school has changed the course of her life.
“I realized I never want to leave,” she said, surprising outcome from a house-sitting job.