She’s worn many caps in the Canton Public Schools but some 30 years since she returned to town, Nancy Grace’s career has come full circle. She started teaching science to middle-school aged students in 1985 and after years of added duties such as coach, athletic director and physical education instructor, she is once again a full-time science teacher.
In noting her length and breadth of service and ability to “inspire” students, the Canton School District has named the Grace the 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year.
The official announcement came Monday morning during an opening day for school staff members.
The ceremony included a visit from former students, remarks from Canton Middle School principal Joe Scheideler and a speech from Grace.
Although she has known of the designation since June, on Monday afternoon Grace, in the midst of continual congratulations, said it was still sinking in and that she was honored to be picked among so many great colleagues.
“I feel very good right now,” she said. “We have so many great teachers.”
In announcing Grace’s honor Monday morning Scheideler noted accomplishments such as a coaching career that included eight field hockey championships and Canton’s first softball state title.
Grace is also a member of National Science Teachers Association and the Connecticut High School Coaches Association, and will be inducted this fall into the Connecticut Coaches Hall of Fame. She also serves on the Athletic Self-Study Committee and the Middle School Quality Council
And whether on the field or in the classroom, Grace continually inspires students, Scheideler said, adding many specific examples and quotes.
“Nancy has devoted her professional energy and life to the students of the town of Canton for the past 30 years,” Scheideler said. “She makes a difference every day at our school in the lives of the students she teaches and has for a very long time.”
The morning also contained some humor and personal touches. A slide show of past photos was played to the music of Neil Diamond, one of Grace’s favorites.
In her speech, Grace thanked her colleagues and shared memories from the years, including her time as a student at Cherry Brook and a teacher who first-grade teacher who inspired her. She also shared the thoughts one of her first-ever Canton students who recently ran into her.
The student said she looked the same, only “a little wider and a little whiter.”
On a more serious note, superintendent Kevin Case also praised Grace Monday.
“Nancy is an outstanding educator,” he said. “She has an in-depth knowledge of curriculum, as well as an excellent understanding of effective instructional strategies. She maintains high expectations for all of her students continually challenging and encouraging them to strive to do their personal best. Nancy has developed the perfect balance for instruction in a middle school classroom; often sharing the following with her students: “Learn a little, Laugh a little, and Love to come to science class.”
Grace herself is a product of the Canton Schools. A 1976 graduate of Canton High School, she went on to obtain a bachelor’s of Science Degree in Physical education from Springfield College in 1980, later obtaining teaching certifications for physical education and science for grades 7 to 12.
After working as a paraprofessional at Oak Hill School for the Blind and teaching for a short time in the Washington, D.C. area, Grace came to Canton in 1983 as a substitute teacher.
“She made a good impression back then,” said Polly Pobuda, a library para-professional who started in the Canton schools around the same time as Grace.
In the fall of 1985, Grace was hired full time as a 7th-grade science teacher and also began coaching field hockey.
At that time, high school principal Gary Gula was principal of the then Canton Jr./Sr. High School.
Since the beginning, Grace has "gone the extra mile," been a team player, ended the day with a smile and has been a leader, Gula said. In addition the students love her, Gula said.
She’s also coached softball, taught physical education and from the fall of 2005 to June of 2010 cut back on teaching to serve as Athletic Director.
“I learned a lot from it and met a lot of great people,” she said. “I’m glad I did it.” But Grace said the part-time athletic director position is a demanding one that can involve many late hours. She also felt a longing to return to her Canton teaching roots.
“It also made me realize how much I love teaching science to middle-school kids,” she said.
Grace is also thankful to have served in her native town for so long.
“I love Canton and I think I kind of wanted to give back what I got from the Canton schools,” she said.