Written by Colin Hickey
When Damien DeCoteau and Chris DelGiudice were students at Messalonskee High School, they had no thoughts of becoming a teacher one day.
The 29-year-old DelGiudice, a talented soccer player, aspired to a career as a college soccer coach, while DeCoteau, 23, hoped simply to overcome the many family issues he faced and bring a bit of stability to his life.
But today, years removed from their student days at Messalonskee, both DeCoteau and DelGiudice are back in the halls they walked as teenagers, this time leading rather than absorbing classroom lessons, teaching math at their alma mater.
DeCoteau, who teaches an algebra and a geometry class, said such a career move is development he definitely would have never contemplated in his days as a high school student.
“That was not fathomable at all,” he said. “No, not at all.”
For DelGiudice, in contrast, the move was far more predictable. While his focus had always been to enter the coaching profession, the fundamental skills and dynamics of the work he wanted to pursue were identical.
“Everything I’ve done, I’ve worked with kids,” he said. “I like working with them. Essentially, I’m teaching when I’m coaching anyway.”
In fact, DelGiudice actually has managed to obtain both a teaching and coaching gig. Two years ago, he took over as head coach of the Messalonskee girls’ soccer team, earning Morning Sentinel Girls’ Soccer Coach of the Year in his debut season.
Messalonskee Principal Paula Callan said DeCoteau and DelGiudice filled a critical void caused by the unexpected departure of math teachers Nick and Stacy Hart.
“Both Damien and Chris have been an immense help to us this year,” Callan said. “They helped to fill two very critical positions in a rather short period of time. Neither one had chosen the career pathway of being a math teacher, but both have the background, knowledge, and skill to teach our students.”
DelGiudice, after excelling as both a student and athlete at Messalonskee, went on to earn a degree in educational studies at Husson University in Bangor, playing four years on the varsity soccer team at the same time.
DeCoteau went to the University of Maine at Farmington and obtained a bachelor’s degree in math.
Callan said DelGiudice is a person who always set high standards for himself, both in the sports’ realm and in the classroom.
“Chris was a well-rounded high school student,” she said. “Learning came easy to him and academics were important to him as were his athletic endeavors.”
As for DeCoteau, the idea of earning a college degree would have seemed especially unlikely in his initial years of high school.
“I didn’t have parents who cared about my grades – not really,” he said. “They might say so on the surface. And to be honest, I had issues with authority.”
DeCoteau described himself as a smart but undisciplined student, one who habitually skipped classes and failed to turn in homework.
But DeCoteau said his attitude and viewpoint changed dramatically in the course of his high school career thanks largely to a number of Messalonskee teachers who became influential mentors.
Messalonskee social studies teacher Glenn Hutchinson proved to be the most impactful of those mentors, inviting DeCoteau to live with him and his wife when DeCoteau was in his senior year at Messalonskee. He continues to live with the Hutchinsons today.
“I was hesitant at first,” DeCoteau said of the offer, “but not because of Glenn or his family. That was the exciting part. That was the chance to change my life.”
“During his years he was a high school student, he struggled to not only do well in school but he was a non-conformist,” Callan said of DeCoteau. “He did not realize the importance of an education until he went off to college. I believe it was then that he realized he had something to offer and that he was a good student and could succeed on his own.”
So while their backgrounds differ dramatically, DeCoteau and DelGiudice are now quite similar in their desire to influence students in a positive way.
“Both are able to draw from very different personal experiences,” Callan said, “but yet they both are able to connect with students, engage students, and model for their students the importance of an education. I could not be more proud of both of them.”