NFA English teacher named Teacher of the Year
Norwich — On the first day of school each year, English teacher Rebecca Holdridge tells her ninth grade class at Norwich Free Academy that when she was a kid in Mystic, she really wanted to be a teacher or a farmer when she grew up.
The family has a long line of teachers on her mother’s side, and her mom, Michele Holdridge, was a teacher in Groton. Her father, Joe Holdridge, has been disabled since Rebecca was 5, but instilled in her a love of animals and farming. Her family kept goats and chickens and had a big garden.
At age 33, Rebecca Holdridge doesn’t have farm animals, just two cats and a dog and a garden, at her Uncasville home. But this week, she took after her mom and teacher cousin Laura Irace when she was named 2020-21 NFA Teacher of the Year. Her mother and cousin both won a version of the award in Groton.
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Holdridge called the award “humbling” and credited her NFA colleagues for creating a supportive, collaborative teaching environment. Holdridge said she fell in love with NFA when she did her graduate school internship there and called it “my dream school.”
Holdridge earned her master’s degree in secondary education from the University of New Haven after earning a bachelor’s degree in English at Eastern Connecticut State University. She grew up in Mystic and graduated from Ella T. Grasso Technical High School in Groton.
She did student teaching at Fitch High School in Groton and joined NFA in 2015. She initially taught 10th and 11th grades before switching to ninth grade. When NFA opens next week, she will start her fourth year teaching ninth grade English at the school.
She also has taught night school and the NFA Saturday Academy, as well as various summer step-up and credit recovery programs. She serves on the school’s Grading and Assessment Committee. In addition, she has run professional growth sessions on co-teaching in which a second teacher helps support students at risk of falling behind. She was paired with a reading specialist last school year.
“I’m not sure about this year. Things changed a little with COVID(-19),” Holdridge said, in a marked understatement.
NFA opens for freshmen on Monday, with about half the class attending in person and the other half remotely. Holdridge will help with freshmen orientation and will help her students return to in-person classes in a very different way since school closed abruptly in March.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Holdridge said. “I did a lot of professional development online over the summer, webinars, apps, technology. Now it’s trying to put it all together. It’s stressful but exciting. I’m learning a lot of things I can apply to my teaching.”
Holdridge was nominated for the award by special education teacher Heather Connell.
“I have seen so many of my support students flourish in her class,” Connell wrote in her nomination letter. “Their success is a reflection of the ability that she has to inspire her students to do well in her class. She makes a meaningful impact on the lives of her students each and every day.”
“This award gives us the opportunity to pause and acknowledge the talented and inspiring educators who work at NFA,” Linda Farinha, chairwoman of this year’s Teacher of the Year Committee, said in a news release announcing Holdridge’s award. “This is an important reminder of why we do what we do, and Rebecca makes an impact not only in the classroom, but institutionally as well.”