Published April 21, 2022 by Rebecca Goldfine

Maine Honors Two Future Teachers

Mohamed Kilani ’21 is one of two winners of the first-ever Maine Pre-service Teacher of the Year award, which comes with a $1,000 prize to help set up his next classroom. Chelsea Whiting-Puckett ’22 came in third, and received $200.

Mo and Chelsea
Mohamed "Mo" Kilani ’21 and Chelsea Whiting-Puckett ’22

Both Kilani and Whiting-Puckett are students in this semester's Bowdoin Teacher Scholars program, which certifies students to teach in public schools anywhere in the country.

The Maine Department of Education selected Kilani, Whiting-Puckett, and Ivy Johnson (from University of Maine–Machias) based on letters of recommendation and a personal essay demonstrating their passion for teaching, adaptability, drive for improvement, and excellent communication skills.

Kilani, who graduated from Bowdoin last year with a major in Hispanic studies and education, just wrapped up a three-month student teaching practicum at Lincoln Middle School in Portland, Maine. He taught Spanish to mostly seventh graders and some eighth graders.

Now his goal is to find a full-time job teaching Spanish in a public school in Portland, where he has lived with his family since he was ten years old. They arrived here as refugees from Iraq. (He is fluent in three dialects of Arabic, Kurdish, French, and Spanish).

While his personal experiences can help him relate to other immigrant and refugee students, he says his bigger dream is to help language education overall become more culturally sensitive and inclusive. "I want to change how we think about language learning so it is not just an asset," but rather seen as a part of people's identities and our shared humanity, he said.

He is excited to give back to a city he loves. "If you are presented an opportunity to stay in your home community and flourish there, that is worth a million bucks," he said.

Whiting-Puckett, an English and education major, completed her teaching practicum in a ninth-grade English classroom at Casco Bay High School in Portland. She grew up in San Antonio, Texas, but also would love to find a teaching job in the Portland area. "Living and student-teaching in Maine has been an amazing opportunity and I want to stay here and develop my professional career," she said.

Her professional goal is to teach English or social studies, and "be part of a team of educators who create classrooms where students and teachers harness the power of humility and connection to work toward a collective vision of justice for Americans of all identities," she wrote in her essay.

As a person who identifies as queer, she said she believes a "comprehensive, liberatory humanities education can prevent" the erasure of marginalized people and their history. 

"Perhaps each teacher picks up the pieces that we felt were most broken in our own schooling experiences and runs with them, tries to fit them back together," she said. "For me, that’s serving and supporting LGBTQ+ students and all marginalized students through teaching robust, honest English and social studies courses."