If you ask Luke Witham to cite the biggest thing he has learned as a teacher, he doesn’t hesitate.
“You’ve got to have a very short memory, and you’ve got to learn from your mistakes,” he said.
In other words, he says, one can’t let a bad day or minute dictate how things will progress from there.
“You can’t sink into those lows, or if something’s bothering you or a student does something inappropriate or upsets you, you’ve got to be able to move on, while reflecting. Be positive, start with a clean slate and say, ‘How can we create a positive environment after the fact?’ ”
Though this sounds like it comes from a veteran teacher, it doesn’t.
Witham, 21, is still a senior in college studying secondary education, but he has been teaching at Lawrence High School in Fairfield the last four years, although in an unusual capacity.
Witham will graduate next week from Thomas College in Waterville with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, focusing on social studies.
To pay for college, he has worked as a substitute teacher at Lawrence High since he was a college freshman. This past year, he worked every day as a long-term substitute math teacher there, making it work by molding his Thomas classes to fit his work schedule.
The open math teacher position had been unfilled, and he accepted the long-term substitute job, gratefully.
“They knew my capabilities and they must have trusted me, so they offered me the position,” Witham said earlier this week.
While his college degree is focused on social studies, he teaches math to about 60 students while also working with parents and other teachers, creating lesson plans and helping students after school where needed — performing all the responsibilities of a seasoned teacher.
While he treasures his Thomas classes and sharing experiences with his peers, he acknowledges his high school teaching experience has been the most valuable.
“I’ve learned more about education, being an educator, being a teacher, about myself, in the classroom. It’s that hands-on experience that can’t be beaten. I love it.”
After he graduates from Thomas, Witham plans to take classes to get dual certification to teach both social studies and math. In his first year at Thomas, he majored in forensic accounting as he was good at math and numbers, but then changed to social studies. He enjoys teaching both, he said.
A graduate of Lawrence High himself in 2018, Witham said strong and supportive teachers there led him to his interest in teaching.
“Overall, I had a fantastic education. I’m very thankful for it. Strong teachers in a strong building — a lot of really positive role models.”
A benefit of teaching at Lawrence is that he relates to his students. He grew up in the Shawmut area of Fairfield.
“When you came from a similar background as your students, it’s easy to connect,” he said.
Witham received scholarships from Thomas and was able to pay for a majority of his education with the money he earned while substituting, which leaves him not debt free, but in a “pretty good spot.”
“I’ve got a younger sister at University of New England who will owe more in one year that I will for my four years at Thomas,” he said.
Witham told me Tuesday that he was to interview for the permanent Lawrence High math position on Wednesday.
I called him Friday and he had good news.
“I got the job,” he said. “I’m ecstatic.”
Way to go, Luke.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.
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