Steve Donahue whistles happily as he makes his lunch before heading to the classroom each day.

“I’m one of the fortunate people who gets up and does what I love,” the New Milford High School math teacher said of his morning routine.

His positive outlook and enthusiasm for his career translates into the classroom and has not gone unnoticed by the school district.

Donahue was recognized as Teacher of the Year for New Milford Public Schools at the start of the school year.

“I was taken off guard,” Donahue said of the surprise recognition at the end of August. “I’ve always thought in order to be Teacher of the Year you had to be doing an outstanding thing. My only success is connecting with students and teachers.”

“Colleagues remind me I deserve this (honor), but there are 100 others just as deserving,” Donahue said. “But, I am proud people appreciate what I do.”

Fellow math teacher Colleen Peterson described Donahue as a “dedicated’ teacher who brings ideas to department and the classroom.

“Seemingly endless patience, a willingness to listen, and a genuine interest in his students’ lives are what make him such a great teacher,” said longtime NMHS musical director Bob Keck, now retired, who worked alongside Donahue for many years in the theater.

Donahue, who grew up in Kent, has been teaching for 19 years. Prior to that, he spent 20 years as a carpenter.

He has taught every math course, except statistics. He now teaches AP Calculus and Algebra II.

“I’ve always been good at math,” he said. “It comes easy.”

Dave Shaffer, retired NMHS math department chairman, has known Donahue since he was hired with the district.

“It was a very fortunate day for New Milford High School when Steve Donahue accepted a position as a math teacher,” Shaffer said. “Steve has been an exceptional math teacher and an exceptional member of the total faculty since then.”

“He willingly took on every challenge that he could, whether it was writing a new course for students who struggled with math or volunteering to teach Advanced Placement Calculus, which involves much extra work outside of class,” he related.

NMHS math teacher Cheryl Reiner praised Donahue for his contributions in the department and for being a “team player.”

Donahue credits his children as the spark for his teaching career.

Once his children, Tyler and Amy, became involved in Scouts, sports and other activities, he actively supported their interests and served as a coach and leader.

“I found I connected with the students,” said Donahue, who also serves as advisor for the school’s Gay Straight Alliance Club.

At 35, Donahue went back to school - attending classes in the evenings - while working full time. In the evenings, he and his children often did homework together.

“They learned to appreciate education because they saw how important it was to us,” said Donahue, who has been married to his wife Elaine for 36 years.

In the classroom, Donahue focuses on engagement with students and instilling in them an enthusiasm for the subject.

He reflected on two of his former teachers, Len Gulotta and Bruce Adams, who each served as models to him.

He cited Gulotta’s “energy that made class so enjoyable.”

“I try to model what I do after some of what he did,” Donahue said.

Like Donahue, Adams was not just a teacher, but a coach. Donahue has coached varsity softball and JV baseball.

Donahue, who graduated from Kent Center School and Housatonic Valley Regional High School, said some might describe his classroom as looking “chaotic” at times but that’s his favorite part.

“That’s when students are engaged,” he said. “I’m there to help students achieve and that’s my job.”

Helping students succeed often comes with extra time. Donahue often comes in early and stays late after school to help students with their work.

“He is a master teacher in every way,” Shaffer said, referring to Donahue’s extra efforts.

“His explanations are clear and very understandable to students of every ability and they know that with Steve, they have a teacher who really cares,” he said.

Other days Donahue spends time in the theater, where he worked alongside Keck for nearly 20 years and continues to oversee the lights and sounds.

Keck recalled his first meeting with Donahue. It was when Tyler was in the school musical, before Donahue was a teacher.

“He and I immediately hit it off,” Keck said. “And he was a godsend with his carpentry ability” helping to build sets.

“I was delighted when he was hired to teach math at the high school, and he became the producer for the shows - basically taking over the stage crew and set-building,” Keck said.

As a teacher, Donahue has the summers off, a time when he can turn his attention back to carpentry projects.

“The best is, I love doing both (teaching and carpentry),” he said. “I have the best of both worlds.”

Keck described Donahue’s recent honor as “well deserved.”

“He has given selflessly of his time and talent, not only to the musical, but to the drama club, the softball team that he coached for years, and other aspects of life at NMHS. Teacher of the Year is a well-deserved honor to an awesome teacher,” he said.