North High teacher wins district’s top honor
Administrators, teachers, the media and others poured into Matthew Kaye’s classroom on Tuesday morning, where he was conducting a class.
It was a big occasion, so big they delayed next period.
Kaye was awarded the Lee County Public School’s Teacher of the Year on Tuesday for his work as an advanced international certificate of education U.S. History and advanced geography teacher at North Fort Myers High School.
Kaye knew he was a finalist, but when he saw the people come pouring into the classroom, it was a bit of a shock.
“It was overwhelming, humbling and surreal. I know how many great educators we have in this district and how great they do daily,” Kaye said. “I tried to be balanced today. I said I really wanted to win this, but at the same time there are a lot of great professionals out there. It was a special moment.”
Kaye also spoke of what it means for North High for teachers and students, as fellow teacher Jacqueline Curls was also named a finalist, making North the only school in Lee County with two finalists.
“It says we’re a great school with a lot to be proud of here. Our kids are amazing. They push us to be better. We can’t show up for class unprepared. They’ll let you know,” Kaye said. “The culture here is about coming together and achievement.”
Superintendent of Schools Greg Adkins presented Kaye his award, while others presented him with balloons, bouquets, and lots of swag from movie tickets to gift certificates at restaurants.
Kaye graduated from Fort Myers High School in 2002 from the IB program and attended Flagler College in St. Augustine, graduating in 2006.
After graduation he went to teach for the Lee County School District, first at Lehigh Senior High School for five years before going to North in 2011, where his wife and fellow Green Wave grad, Kassidy, worked.
At Lehigh, he was mentored by Dr. Judi Hughes, a retired administrator for the school district. She said from the beginning she knew he had something special.
“I knew with some guidance and getting him on the right path that he was going to be something outstanding,” Hughes said. “There was always something special about him because he realized it doesn’t matter to kids how much you know until you know how much they care.”
While teaching, he earned a masters degree in history at Florida Gulf Coast University and is now working on his doctorate.
Kaye is no stranger to awards. He has gone through the Golden Apple process, being named Teacher of Distinction, and was named Teacher of the Year by the Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce. But nothing compared to this.
Adkins said Kaye is a dynamic teacher who was deserving of the honor.
“He really engages his students. The award recognizes the pinnacle of our profession. This is about teachers who do great things for the kids, so this is quite an honor,” Adkins said.
North High principal Matt Mederios said the award not only recognizes Kaye, but the high school and the work that’s going on.
“It’s a reflection of the excellent teaching going on here. We have many teachers who deserve this recognition,” Mederios said. “He has the ability to bring out the most from his students. He gets them engaged in their education and holds them accountable for their learning.”
And what did the students think of Kaye winning the award? They were among the first to applaud.
On this day, they were asked to make playlist of the decade they’ve just gone through, with one song that captures that year in different ways.
“We were all really proud of him when everyone came into the room. It was so exciting,” said Billy Thurston. “He makes learning fun and really connects with us individually and makes us feel special.”
“I am so proud of him. He’s one of my favorite teachers at North. I love his class. I learn so easily from him,” said junior Megan Fonack. “He really understands teenagers and he gets out humor. He breaks things down and understands the way we think and makes everything so easy.”
Kaye said the feeling was mutual.
“The most inspirational part of my job is being able to come here and work with these kids every day. They push me and inspire me and this is an honor for them,” Kaye said.