By Julie Huss and Alex Lippa
---- — DERRY — Pinkerton Academy social studies teacher Joseph Lee hasn’t been teaching that long, but he’s certainly made a big impact on his students.
The six-year teacher also has impressed people outside the classroom.
Lee, 29, was named the 2013 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year by the state Department of Education. He was surprised with the award Friday before 3,000 students at Pinkerton’s fall pep rally.
He was one of 36 teachers in the state nominated for the award and is now a candidate for the National Teacher of the Year award.
He continues to be humbled by the honor.
“Many students congratulated me,” Lee said. “I am overwhelmed. Surreal, honored, humbled, also come to mind with excitement trumping all.”
Lee has been teaching for six years, all of them at Pinkerton. He said coming to the classroom every day and making a difference make the job extremely satisfying.
“I’m sure countless teachers could agree that teaching is, and will always remain, a truly rewarding occupation,” he said. “Knowing that what I do to the best of my ability can positively affect a student’s life motivates me to continue to grow as an educator. I never want to stagnate.”
Lee’s students say it’s easy to learn in social studies class.
“He doesn’t always act like a teacher,” 14-year-old freshman Sarah Rickershause said. “He brings a lot of fun.”
Another freshman, Derek Wilson, called his teacher “brilliant.”
“He teaches things and ties it in with real world things,” Wilson said.
Lee was nominated for the award in February by Beverly Lannan, Pinkerton’s Dean of Faculty.
He then received an application in the mail and wrote a few essays about his style of teaching.
“A teacher is a leader,” he wrote. “A teacher must recognize the unique characteristics and strengths of each student, and work to hone their strengths and overcome their challenges.”
The list was narrowed down to the semi-finalists; that required more essays and interviews with the state Department of Education.
State officials also came to Pinkerton to watch Lee in action in the classroom.
“He truly exemplifies what we want with education found in the classroom,” said Cindy Chagnon, a member of the Board of Education.
In addition to teaching social studies, Lee leads the school’s golf and ice hockey teams, and also helps advise Pinkerton’s longstanding China exchange program.
Pinkerton senior golf team tri-captain Eric Byrne said his coach deserves the award,.
“He’s such a great leader,” Byrne said.
Commission of Education Virginia Barry called Lee “a leader and ambassador for all the outstanding teachers devoted to the highest level of student learning in their classrooms.”
Pinkerton Academy Headmaster Mary Anderson called Lee an enthusiastic and energetic educator.
“The kids like him, he relates the class materials to their level and he’s just a really deserving person for this,” she said.
Freshman Mike Jellison said Lee gives students the world and makes it easy to learn.
“He makes us find a solution to things,” he said. “He makes us learn, not just memorizing. We find real world solutions.”
As New Hampshire’s Teacher of the Year, Lee will be able to attend the National Teacher of the Year conference in Arizona in January and also the National Teacher of the Year announcement ceremony next April in Washington, D.C.
Lee said he is still processing his award and realizes he has been given a great opportunity.
“I am so thankful for that,” he said. “I am eager to represent New Hampshire and to collaborate with like-minded, motivated, and innovative educators from around the nation and the world. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know that I am starting a journey, and am going to ride the wave as long as I can.”