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10 SPPS Teachers in Running for 2020 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Published by Saint Paul Public Schools Feb. 13, 2020

MN Teacher of the Year Candidates

From physical education to accelerated biology and elementary to high school, a wide range of SPPS educators are nominated for the 2020 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.

Patricia Boyt  

Patricia Boyt
EL teacher at Eastern Heights Elementary

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
I have worked as an EL teacher in the Saint Paul Public Schools since 1999, starting my career at Battle Creek Middle School. Shortly thereafter, I joined the staff at Roosevelt Elementary and was there for 10 years. When Roosevelt closed, I was hired at Benjamin E. Mays IB World School, and taught there for nine years, and was half-time at JJ Hill Montessori for 1.5 years. Currently, I’m in my second year at Eastern Heights Elementary.

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
I come from a family of educators. My mother taught in Jamaica and Germany in the early 1960’s, and my father recently retired at age 80 as an International Policy Studies professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, in Monterey, CA. My brother David is in his final year as the principal (after 13 years as a teacher) at Beechwood Elementary School in Menlo Park, CA and my brother Johnny is in his 26th year as a 4th-grade teacher (and sometimes vice principal) at the same elementary school. My sister Megan (the one with the Ph.D.) gets honorary teacher status for patiently explaining to me all these years what genomic data analysis is and what the heck she does for a living. PS. I still don’t totally understand it.

My time as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching high school English in Poland from 1990-1992 convinced me that this was the profession for me.  The experience also gave me a better understanding of the struggle and triumph of learning a second language. 

Ms. Boyer, my English Literature and History teacher at Notre Dame High School, an all-girls school in Salinas, CA, taught us the power of knowledge, made history and literature come alive for us, and instilled in us the importance of making a positive impact in the world. I chose teaching, in part, to give my students the same feeling of empowerment she gave us all those years ago.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is working with my EL students in groups and watching them as they grasp a concept, such as using compare/contrast language in their writing. It’s especially inspiring when they can relay what they just learned to another EL student. It’s so exciting when our new-to-country students produce language for the first time, seeing how proud and accomplished they feel. Another great part of my job is collaborating with colleagues who willingly share their expertise and welcome me into their classrooms.  

Also, I believe the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project is one of the best initiatives to come out of our district in a long time. We get to visit with our students and families in their home environment, where the focus is not necessarily on academics but rather on the hopes and dreams they have for their children.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge lies not in what happens in my day-to-day teaching, but in dealing with decisions made by bureaucrats and those who have spent little to no time in a classroom. These include unfunded mandates, lack of mental health and behavior support for all of our learners, and lack of consistent support for our EL students and their families. Across-the-board cuts to education on the state and federal level have made it more difficult for our most vulnerable students to get the attention they need for both their academic and social-emotional learning. 

We also need to recognize the mental and physical demands of our profession, and acknowledge that teacher burn-out is real and needs to be addressed immediately. Probationary teachers, in particular, need a safe and encouraging environment in order to remain and flourish in the teaching profession.

Often with challenges there is inspiration. Therefore, I want to recognize those brave educators who spoke up about injustice when it mattered and gave me the strength to do the same.  To Aaron Benner, Dr. Bonnie Laabs, Diane Thomas, Janey Moe, Diedra Carlson and the late Susan McNamara: I will never forget your encouragement and solidarity during very difficult and uncertain times. 

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
My students have taught me humility, resilience, and perspective. They are hard-working and hilarious. They have shown me that books still matter to them, and their love of reading is alive and well. They make me proud and grateful at the same time.

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
If I weren’t a teacher, perhaps I’d be in publishing or editing. Although I have fantasized about owning a small inn on the east coast of Bali.

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
Being nominated is an opportunity to express how important we are to each other, and how essential it is to let joy, trust and camaraderie continually re-energize us in this profession. 

Therefore, I’d like to recognize the following individuals: Sheryl Cain and Peggy Sullivan, and the dream team, who gave me such confidence early in my career. To the Spooner crew, Lori Seath, Liz Halama, and Jane Johnson, I am grateful for their unwavering friendship and professional wisdom. To my co-teaching/collaborating partners over the years, especially Giselle Spears, Diana Brown and Laura Nunez, I thank you for your patience, expertise and compassion. To Kou Moua: your loyalty and dedication to your family and your craft is unmatched. To Jenny Djupstrom and Kerry Lewis: thanks for not freaking out when I arrived with 60 boxes of teaching materials, and for rockin’ our PLC. Keep the homemade bread and veggie soup coming.

To Bernetta Green, who nominated me, this has lifted me up in ways I find hard to put into words and made me reflect on who I want to be as an educator going forward. 

Our family is an all SPPS household: my husband John teaches English at Johnson High School (go Govies!), our son Sam is a freshman at Como High School and our daughter Martha is a 7th grader at Murray. Our children have been blessed with exceptional teachers, especially Linnae Blevins from St. Anthony Park Elementary, for going the extra mile for Sam that tough 4th grade year. 

Andrew Brigger  

Andrew Brigger
Social Studies teacher at Central Senior High

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
I have worked my entire 15-year teaching career at Central Senior High. 

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
Being a teacher seems to have been part of a natural progression of events for me. As a high school student, I coached youth sports and as a college student, I was a Resident Assistant. Additionally, I have always been fascinated with the study of history and politics. Teaching is how I have been able to combine my areas of interest into a fulfilling career. 

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
Clearly, the best part of the job are the students that I get to work with every day. I am continually impressed by their creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. I have also been lucky enough to work in a building with an amazing staff. These two factors have made it a joy to come to work every day at Central Senior High.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge of the job is the impossibility of leaving work at work. This does not only mean the grading, letter of recommendation writing, and lesson planning. It also includes the days when you wish you would have dealt with a situation differently and replay it over and over in your head — the days when a well-planned lesson fails miserably and you question your entire teaching methodology. I cannot remember a drive to work in the past 15 years that my mind was not racing about all of the things that needed to be done in the hours ahead or a drive home that I was not reflecting on the hours before.

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
At a very early stage of my teaching career, my students taught me the value of being genuine and authentic. When my students see the excitement and passion that I have for the things that I am teaching, it makes them more eager to begin learning with me.

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
I honestly can’t imagine myself doing anything else. To choose something other than my current position, I could envision a path of teaching history at the college level, or even a career in teaching and mentoring future teachers. 

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
Being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year is an incredible honor and I am very grateful for it. The teaching profession is often thankless, and the difficulty of what goes on in schools on daily is unimaginable to those who have never done it. This nomination affirms to me that the work that I do every day is having a positive impact on the lives of my students. 

DeWayne Combs  

DeWayne Combs
Physical Education teacher at Murray Middle School

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
I have been an employee of Saint Paul Public Schools for 29 years. I started on May 11, 1991. I worked for 10 years at Saint Paul Secondary ALC as a Physical Education teacher and activities coordinator. I worked 10 years at Battle Creek Middle School, four years at Ramsey Middle School and four years at Johnson Senior High as a Physical Education teacher and Athletics Director. For the last two years, I've been at Murray Middle School as a Physical Education teacher. 

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
Working with kids has been my calling. Working with kids is the only work I have ever done. I started as a day camp counselor at the age of 14. I continued to work with kids as a referee or coach or camp counselor. I have always known I would be a Physical Education Teacher since I was very young.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
The kids, I look forward to each and every day to making a difference in the lives of the learners that I teach. They are a big part of my success as a teacher. The relationships that I have built over the last 29 years continue to this day. 

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
The number of kids that I see. Two hundred kids a day and tomorrow a different 200. Four hundred kids every two days. I know all of their names and I have a personal relationship with each and every one of them. Right now, I can meet their energy. As I age, I have wonderings. 

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
The students have taught me patience. They have also taught me to meet them where they are and design individual educational learning plans to fit their needs, instead of getting them to do things that fit the teacher. 

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
There isn’t any other job or profession for me. I have been put on this earth to be a teacher and that all I have ever known and It is the only job that suits me. I also like the summer off.

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
At first, it was no big deal. I have gotten a lot of attention since the announcement of my nomination. I really do teach for extrinsic rewards. It does feel good after 29 years of hard work to be considered for an award. 

Jennifer Funkhouser  

Jennifer Funkhouser
Reading Strategies and French teacher at Harding Senior High

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
I have taught at Harding Senior High School for nine years. Before that, I lived and taught in Mexico City, in New York City and Paris, France.

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
At the end of my senior year in college, I was honored with a Fellowship to teach English in France. I landed at a large technology high school in a poor, immigrant community northeast of Paris. I immediately fell in love with the students, with the community, with the profession, and with the possibilities. When I moved back to the States, it made sense to continue to teach.  I went to grad school in NYC, where I studied to become an agent of change in urban schools. This program increased my desire to teach and my drive to make an impact.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
Hands down, the best part of my job is interacting with hundreds of high school students every day. 

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is not having enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do. Let’s be honest, when you are a teacher, your work is not limited to teaching content in the classroom or grading papers at night. If you want to have the biggest impact, you need to spend time watching your students and supporting them in other parts of their lives. You need to spend time working and talking with them after school, spend time in their clubs, in their neighborhoods, on their playing fields, in their concert halls...finding a balance is another challenge! 

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
It is so hard to pick one most important thing that my students have taught me because there are so many important life lessons I have learned from them over my 30-year teaching career. If I had to, however, I would say it would be how important relationships are -- to them and to me. It is only when you make connections with your students, really learn about them, and share pieces of yourself that authentic teaching and learning happens in the classroom.

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
It’s going to sound a little cringy, but here’s the truth.  I think people are born to become who they are meant to be. For me, I was born to teach.

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
The world. Good educators don’t teach for the money or the glory, but it is so gratifying to be recognized but such a prestigious group of leaders in education. I moved to Minnesota almost 10 years ago and immediately found the school where I was meant to teach.  I feel this generous nomination is a nod to me after 30 years of teaching, but it is also a nod to Harding High School and to the State of Minnesota where, like me, so many students have been welcomed to make this place their second home.

Courtney Gbolo

Courtney Gbolo
Family and Consumer Science Education Teacher at Como Park Senior High

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
I have worked as a Family and Consumer Science Teacher in Saint Paul Public Schools for five years. One year at Humboldt High School and four years at Como Park Senior High. Overall, I have been teaching for 13 years.

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
I had a Family and Consumer Science Teacher in high school, her name is Ms. Heim. Ms. Heim treated all of her students with a great deal of respect and created a very inclusive classroom environment. She is the reason I am a teacher today. 

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is seeing students discover what they are passionate about. I believe it is extremely important to provide a safe place for students to explore, create and collaborate. Teaching CTE (Career and Technical Education) classes provide students with real-world learning opportunities to explore career paths. I have former students who are thriving in fields that our programs have exposed them to. It’s really rewarding to know that our programs have had a part in their success.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
Personally I think the biggest challenge is finding a healthy balance between home and work life. I am a mother of three amazing young daughters (also SPPS students). Both roles are extremely rewarding, and both also require a great deal of time and energy. Although I strive to find a healthy balance, it can be difficult.

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
Honestly, I learn a whole lot from my students. Our youth in Saint Paul are amazing and I consider it a privilege to serve our community. I am amazed at students' abilities to seek change when they see injustice. I am in awe of how resilient some of my students are to the obstacles they face. I am hopeful for our future because of our students' abilities to break down barriers and build positive connections with each other.

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
I would be a food blogger who travels around the world and learns how to make culinary creations from different cultures.

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
It is an honor to be nominated by one of my students who I highly respect. I also need to give a shout out to the amazing colleagues I work with. I could not do my job effectively without the support of other teachers and our amazing support staff. 

Anna Parvi  

Anna Parvi
EL teacher at Harding Senior High

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
This is my 20th year in Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) and I have had the pleasure to teach students from kindergarten through high school. I have worked at:

  • Horace Mann School
  • Highwood Hills Elementary
  • Office of Teaching and Learning 
  • Global Arts Plus (Linwood-Monroe) Lower Campus 
  • Office of Multilingual Learning 
  • Harding Senior High

I also taught in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates for two years before coming to Saint Paul.

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher. My parents often remind me that when I was young, I would round up the neighborhood kids and set up a classroom in our basement where I would teach lessons on the latest things I was doing in school. I have always loved working with and learning from others. I also had many excellent teachers throughout my K-12 years that inspired me.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
Working with students is, of course, the best part. I love getting to know students at a deeper level so I can connect the academics to them in meaningful ways. It’s so rewarding to see the pride they have in themselves when they have achieved something they weren’t sure they could do. Another aspect of my job I love is the colleagues I have had the pleasure to work with. In my 20 years in Saint Paul Public Schools, I have had amazing co-teachers, EL teammates, and numerous other educators that have inspired me. I have learned from them all and have become a better teacher because of each of them.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
Time. Teaching is a profession that can consume all of your time and I am still working on the school-home balance. Being a perfectionist, I think that is something I will always need to be cognizant of. 

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
There is not just one right way to teach. Just when you think you’ve got this teaching thing down, you get a new student with different needs and you’re right back at the drawing board trying to figure out what will work best for them and how to implement it.

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
Maybe a physical therapist? I would still be helping people but in a different way. And I think the way the human body is constructed and how all of the parts work together is amazing.

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
It’s a huge honor, of course. It means others notice that I invest my heart, mind, and soul in my work.

Sherri Quinn  

Sherri Quinn
Science teacher at Harding Senior High

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
I have been teaching for 22 years and all of them have been at Harding Senior High.

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
I love learning and find joy in learning new things. I discovered that I have a talent for helping others learn, too, so teaching was a natural career choice for me. 

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is getting to connect with students. I enjoy getting to know them, helping them succeed in biology and beyond, and learning about their cultures and histories. My students enrich my life and make me a better person.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge I have is the lack of mental health resources for my students. I am often their chosen resource, but I do not have the skill set to help beyond a hug, listening, understanding, and offering to see a social worker. I’ve seen data recently that 1 in 6 teens contemplates suicide. That number is shockingly high. I believe we need more mental health support in the schools to reduce that number. I believe those supports would boost academic achievement, too.

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
My students have taught me to open my mind and see the world from their points of view. This is very powerful and humbling.

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
If I weren’t a teacher, I’d be in the medical field. I would likely be a nurse or doctor. Medicine is my second love after teaching.

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
As a student nominated me without me knowing, I was genuinely moved and honored. I serve students and if they think I am excelling at my job, then I am pleased. I think the nomination affirms my hard work and I appreciate that.

Donna Ryder

Donna Ryder
5th grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
I started as a parent volunteer when my four children attended Eastern Heights Elementary. I was asked by the principal to work as a teacher’s aide and did that for 10 years. I was encouraged to go back to school and become a teacher by Helen McClean, a wonderful teacher who taught my children. My formal teaching career started when I taught Kindergarten at Eastern Heights Elementary for six years, and then moved up to sixth grade. After being at Eastern Heights Elementary for so many years, I felt it was beneficial to experience some other school settings. I moved to Sheridan Elementary and taught sixth grade until our co-location with Ames Elementary. I then settled at Hazel Park Preparatory Academy and taught sixth grade. After the sixth-grade program moved on to the middle schools, I taught fifth grade. When I left Hazel Park, I went to Highland Park Elementary to teach science, and am currently teaching fifth grade at Highland Park Elementary. I have also taught summer school over the years, including teaching the Chinese language during summer school.

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher? 
I chose to become a teacher because I had teachers in my life who made a definite difference for good. When I was a child, my family moved quite frequently and I found myself often being “the new kid” in class. There was a teacher, Mr. Melvin Skaj, who welcomed me into his sixth-grade classroom so many years ago and created for me an environment that was both predictable and calm. For six hours a day, I knew that life would be fair, I would be safe, and someone genuinely cared about me. As an adult, finishing my coursework to become an educator myself, I had a chance to tell Mr. Skaj about the difference he made in my life by creating such a kind and nurturing atmosphere in which I could be free to learn and be happy. I want to carry on his legacy. I want to be the person who creates an environment where students feel safe, happy, and challenged to do their best. I became a teacher because I care about children, and I care about our collective future as inhabitants of this planet.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
I would have to say the best part of my job is to watch a student go from the point of curiosity to inquiry, to knowledge. I like watching the light go on in someone’s eyes when they understand something that they previously did not understand and learn something they didn’t already know. I remember one student who had such difficulty learning algebra. His mom told me to feel free to keep him at school until he understood one day, so I did. I remember teaching so rigorously and then suddenly at 6 p.m. of a regular school day - the lights went on. He looked me in the eyes with a huge smile on his face and said, “I get it!” That was years ago, and that little boy is a man now, but I know that he will always remember how to do algebra because of that one day when the light went on for him in room 215 at Eastern Heights Elementary. He may read this and know I am talking about him. It was fabulous.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is to continue to engage students with interesting and fun ways to learn. Access to technology during the last five years has been great in so many ways. But I want to make sure that the technology used in my classroom enhances learning and that students are already engaged because of their interest and effort. I never want technology to replace me. Students have the world at their fingertips with the ability to search countless websites for information. I challenge them daily to understand how to use the internet responsibly and intelligently in order to find the knowledge that enhances their learning. Engaging a diverse group of students and helping them to be excited about learning is a challenge that has energized me over the past 23 years, and continues to be the fuel that drives me forward in my quest to become good at what I do. 

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
My students have taught me that one of the most important aspects of communication is listening. When I listen to students, even when I listen to the unspoken messages that students communicate through expressions, body language, and behavior, I gain insight into why they do what they do, and why they are the way they are. This helps me find ways to supply them with what they need to make them ready to learn. 

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
If I wasn’t a teacher, I would have chosen to be either a herpetologist - because of my love for science and reptiles, or an entomologist - for the same reasons. The great thing about being a teacher, however, is that I can immerse myself in the study of these fields, and teach my students the wonders of all of it. Teaching is exciting to me for so many reasons. I have the freedom and opportunity to share my passion through the teaching of science, social studies, history, and math, and it is like a dream come true for me. It never gets old. There is always a new way to see something - a new angle or insight to consider. Students are brilliant. They amuse me, amaze me, and they make me laugh. Mostly, they make me feel proud.

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
Being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year means a lot to me because I value the opinions of the people I serve. Being nominated by the parents of the students I teach tells me that they have entrusted their most prized “possessions” to me and have faith that I will keep them safe, teach them and instill in them a love for learning. I am proud to be considered for this honor because I strive to be the best teacher I can be, day after day and someone took the time to tell me that they appreciate my efforts. That means so much to me. I appreciate the support from the parents of the children I teach. It really does take a good team of people to help a student to be successful, and I am happy that parents are glad I am on their team. 

 

Kyle Warner

Kyle Warner
Math teacher at Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
This is my 12th year teaching in Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS). I started at Ramsey Middle School for one year, followed by two years at Open World Learning Community. I have now been at Capitol Hill for nine years. 

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
As a product of SPPS, I had so many excellent teachers, coaches and mentors in my time as a student. These people had a profound impact on my life and my development as both a student and a person. I knew that I enjoyed working with young people and wanted to foster that same development in them. Teaching math seemed like a logical choice as it was something I excelled in because of the exceptional math education I had from the teachers at Hayden Heights, Hazel Park and finally Harding Senior High. 

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is the relationships with students. By the time students get to me in middle school, there is a wide range of their perception of math. Some excel in math and are excited about each new challenge and some have struggled and feel less confident in their ability to be good mathematicians. I work hard to make sure every student knows that they can be a successful mathematician and that I will work to help them make that happen, whether that means extra support for those who are struggling or enrichment for those who are have excelled thus far. 

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is building those relationships with all of my students. I see about 170 students daily for a short period of time. This can mean that for some students, I may only be able to greet them by name at the door when they enter my classroom on a particular day. It is difficult to maintain that balance and make sure I’m connecting with all of my students in a meaningful way.  

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
The most important thing that my students have taught me is that no matter how old you get, you should never lose the wonder and joy that you experience as a kid when it comes to your interests and passions. 

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
If I weren’t a teacher, I would likely be working in an area closely related to another interest or passion such, as health and fitness or computer engineering or video game design.

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
It is an incredible honor to be nominated alongside so many remarkable teachers throughout the district and state. 

 Mark Westpfahl

Mark Westpfahl
Social Studies teacher at Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented

Q: For how long -- and at what schools -- have you worked as an educator in Saint Paul?
This is my 11th year in Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) and my seventh at Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet School. I currently teach American Studies and Minnesota Studies and occasionally have taught a Current Events class. I previously taught American Indian Studies and World Studies at American Indian Magnet School and Battle Creek Middle School.

Q: Why did you want to become a teacher?
I had debated entering education or graphic design as I finished high school, but when I wasn't accepted into University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, I thought I was destined to do the latter at Western Technical College. After working as a graphic designer for several years, the economy experienced a downturn and I was laid off. I had been coaching high school football and several of my players convinced me that I needed to follow the advice I always gave them - work hard to make your dreams and passion a reality. I thought I would be a hypocrite if I didn't put my own words into practice, so I started my non-traditional journey to become a teacher at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. When my wife and I moved to Minnesota, I finished my undergrad and Masters program at the University of Minnesota.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?
There are so many amazing things about being a teacher that it is hard to narrow it down to just one thing. One of the best parts is seeing students achieve at levels that they previously didn't think they could. Of course, that is a different spot for nearly every single student. Students can easily see who is genuinely willing to help them grow into young adults, rather than just improve a test score. On a daily basis, it's often hard to know if you are really making an impact. When students swing by your classroom just to say hi, send an email or a handwritten letter or card, or stop by just to see how you are doing and what my current classes are studying, it provides me with extra inspiration and really motivates me to want to improve my teaching. 

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
Time. As many hours as you invest in your lesson/unit planning to make sure students have a tremendous experience while in your classroom, time always seems to run faster than you want it to. This can make it challenging to build true connections with students and relationships that last far beyond the class period that they were in your classroom. I don't always feel as though I do a good enough job connecting with all of my students, because we are pulled in numerous different directions, often times taking us away from the real reason we are educators, to connect with students and inspire them to reach higher potentials. Time plays another challenging problem in my social studies classroom. We have a very diverse population in SPPS and trying to take our curriculum and make it as reflective as possible to our students, their cultures and realities can be challenging given our time constraints as well.

Q: What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
My style of teaching does not always work for all students the way I might perceive it to. I appreciate it when students let me know this because it allows me to change my approaches. Students are trying to adapt to numerous teaching styles throughout their day, all while navigating the difficult teenage years and I need to be aware of that more. The other big thing that students want to know on a regular basis is why does social studies, or history, matter to them now and how will they use it in the future. Students want to know that what you are providing to them has relevance. They want you to be able to make your lessons and activities connect to real life. They want you to be able to connect things to their interests, their fascinations and even their personal struggles. When you do that, they are more likely to stay engaged and willing to push their own boundaries, because they know they have a safe place for them to explore, fail and eventually succeed.

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?
If I wasn't teaching, I'd consider a career with the National Park Service as an interpretive guide, or even tour director for a travel company, as I am enchanted by history and the connections that it has with the built and physical landscape around us. I love leading and working with people, analyzing different things and ultimately hypothesizing different potential solutions. With that said, I would not close the door to a career in journalism.

Q: What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?
Being nominated by a former student and having current students and families write several of my letters of recommendation for the process has been humbling and gratifying on so many levels. It certainly validates the countless hours I put in and the sacrifices I have made in an effort to make sure that I am giving my students the best possible educational experiences and opportunities that I can. I'd be remiss not to give credit to my colleagues and mentors who have guided me and inspired me to push the boundaries and challenge myself to be better every day.