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Voices / Memoriam

An ode to teachers — and to a great teacher

Maggie Cassidy, beloved Brattleboro Union High School teacher of French and Spanish, the best of teachers. She dedicated her entire career to the Brattleboro community.

Rev. Dr. Lise Sparrow is an ordained pastor of the United Church of Christ and is the retired pastor of the Guilford Community Church. She previously taught graduate students at the School for International Training (SIT) for 25 years, where she was the director of the Master of Arts in Teaching graduate program.


In recent weeks, approximately 8,403 teachers In Vermont have resumed packing their lunches and organized their households, and many dropped off their own children. They’re filling our schools with welcome, learning, and perhaps the most formative experiences of a lifetime.

We know that this year schools are particularly strapped for licensed teachers, after the depletion of the ranks during the Covid pandemic — and yet, we can feel the pounding of dedicated hearts and minds as another year begins. One Academy School teacher wrote in a welcome letter to his fourth graders: “You can expect to spend the first few weeks getting to know each other, learning classroom expectations, [developing] routines, and creating a classroom community in which everyone can be successful and as importantly, we will have fun while learning!”

This teacher — along with many others — is embracing the needs of children of Afghan refugees, as well as local children of varied races and economic backgrounds.

All of them are making the kinds of accommodations most of us won’t even have to imagine. They will creatively present essential lessons. They will communicate after hours with parents. They will collaborate to ensure that all the children have what they need to learn.

* * *

Just as there are many teachers new to teaching, many are also missing, Not forgotten among those, I remember Maggie Cassidy, beloved Brattleboro Union High School teacher of French and Spanish, who died this past spring after a long battle with cancer.

Maggie was the best of teachers. She dedicated her entire career to the Brattleboro community, mentoring teachers and the teachers of teachers. Even up to days before she passed away, stretched her collegiality across the seas through Zoom to France for her students of French.

She also spent the past few years on Zoom in the family courts of Windham County as a guardian ad litem.

As her friend and colleague, I was able to witness her undaunted and enthusiastic efforts to make Brattleboro Union High School and the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU) a community of learning and improvement for students and teachers alike.

* * *

Maggie Cassidy’s passion for language teaching was, at root, a passion for humanity and a respect for difference. Whether traveling to Switzerland or Central America with groups of students, she let the antics of teenagers roll off her back, all the while encouraging them to forge lifelong friendships using the French and Spanish they had learned.

She also worked with teachers — at the high school, in high-risk schools, and across the nation and continents — who struggled to solve teaching challenges in under-resourced and unsupported classrooms. She understood how fortunate we are in Vermont and, through her exposure to other contexts, she worked to make the district even better.

In the end she did not try to make a big name for herself. Rather, she used all the energy she had to support the children in her family and in the most at-risk families in the community to teach them what they needed to learn.

In this way, she brilliantly reflected the dedication of so many teachers who begin their work this month, determined to create learners and lovers of the world and of education itself.

We can be grateful for all Maggie Cassidy was and did for our community and for all teachers who rise to the selfless challenge of educating our children.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #681 (Wednesday, September 14, 2022). This story appeared on page C1.

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