Two North Country educators who trace dedication to their profession to teachers who once guided them have been awarded 2023 Louise Tillotson Teaching Fellowships by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.
This year’s awardees are: Gail McVetty, third-grade teacher at Lancaster Elementary School and Marc Salmin, art teacher at White Mountains Regional High School.
In its 16th year, the fellowship aims to retain good teachers in North Country public schools and recognize excellence in teaching. Awardees are selected by a committee of past fellowship recipients and receive a $10,000 stipend.
The selection committee considers teachers’ commitment and passion for public education, their experience, commitment to continued professional learning, creativity and innovation, communication skills and their ability to inspire North Country educators and students.
McVetty has been an educator for 14 years, the last six in Lancaster, where she grew up.
“You don’t necessarily get into teaching for the recognition or the pay,” she said. “You do it because you love the job. It’s nice (for the fellowship) to promote the positivity that is happening every day in school buildings.”
Colleague Candra Hicks supported McVetty’s nomination, writing that she frequently hears McVetty say: “Do what’s best for children.”
“Gail works hard to apply this to not only academics, but to students’ experience with school as a whole,” she wrote.
Students, McVetty said, should feel safe, loved, welcomed and challenged at school.
“Creating that safe environment for students is so important, where they feel like they are valued and have something to bring to the table,” she said.
McVetty also mentors newer teachers and helps prepare the next generation of educators at the North Country Teacher Certification Program through Plymouth State University and White Mountains Community College.
She leads or takes part in countless school and community activities, including coaching sports, teaching skiing, planning winter carnivals or field days and coordinating other family events.
“They are things that bring kids so much joy,” she said. “People have to step up and do all of the extra things if we want to bring those different opportunities to our kids in the community.”
McVetty finds joy in being with her students, in and out of school. She recounts sitting under a canopy with a book and water bottle this summer while her daughter swam at the local pool in Lancaster.
“I don’t think I read a word in my book because I had so many kids coming up, talking and sitting with me,” she said. “That was a great afternoon!”
Growing up in Lancaster, McVetty remembers how her own teachers were part of the community — in and out of school.
“I loved talking to them,” she said. “I’m doing the same for the next generation, carrying it on.”
Salmin has been teaching art for 16 years, the last five at White Mountains Regional High School in Whitefield.
He said the Fellowship confirms that he is making an impact.
“That makes me feel good and gives me more drive to keep going forward,” he said.
Salmin’s art class is required at WMRHS, so he often works with students who don’t believe art is important or who doubt their talent. Salmin uses those perspectives as a life lesson.
“We are constantly challenged by things that we think we can’t do or that we are not interested in,” he said. “It’s really our mind frame, how we approach those things, that can truly help us grow in life, no matter what it is.”
Besides, he said, art is not just about drawing — and it helps kids become the well-rounded, collaborative people that employers need.
“It’s about understanding the creative process of working with others to generate ideas and to come up with something original and think beyond the normal box,” he said. “That’s what companies are looking for — people who can collaborate and come up with creative ideas.”
Salmin developed a love for art from his high school art teachers, who influenced him and thousands of other students. One of them continued to inspire him as his Art Department chairman when he returned to the school on Long Island, N.Y., as a teacher.
Salmin said it’s inspiring to realize he is part of the ripple effect that continues to guide students, including 2023 WMRHS graduate Sam Ryan.
“(Mr. Salmin) takes the time to understand the goals and challenges of each student to provide personalized feedback with patience and encouragement, empowering students to grow their skill with confidence,” Ryan wrote in a Tillotson Fellowship recommendation letter. He called Salmin “my favorite teacher in all of my education.”
Because of his WMRHS experience, Ryan is pursuing a career in art education.
Salmin could have had a career in art and design, but wanted to combine his artistic talent with his desire to work with kids.
“I loved creating, but I also knew that just creating on its own wasn’t as important as helping others find that art was something they really enjoyed doing,” he said.
The Tillotson Fellowship, he said, recognizes the value of all teachers.
“It doesn’t really matter what you teach,” he said. “It’s about the importance of having people in students’ lives who really care about them and want the best for them.”
The Louise Tillotson Teaching Fellowship was established in 2006 by Dixville Notch resident Louise Tillotson, a self-made businesswoman who was deeply connected with the people and communities of the North Country.