Paula Buendorf, special education teacher at Southwest Middle School, was selected as the 2014 Teacher of the Year for Albert Lea Area Schools.
Paula Buendorf, special education teacher at Southwest Middle School, was selected as the 2014 Teacher of the Year for Albert Lea Area Schools.

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Special education teacher selected as Teacher of the Year

Published 5:16pm Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Southwest Middle School special education teacher Paula Buendorf was selected as the 2014 Teacher of the Year for Albert Lea Area Schools.

Buendorf, a third-time Teacher of the Year finalist, took the stage at the ceremony with tears in her eyes.

“It’s hard to be up here when there are dozens of people way more deserving than I could even say,” Buendorf said.

Buendorf described receiving the award as unexpected.

Forty-three teachers were nominated by parents and students for the award this year. The teacher of the year board selected a seven finalists. The finalists were JoAnn Bracker, a third-grade teacher at Sibley Elementary School; Gayle Brownlow, a Spanish teacher; Jeremy Corey-Gruenes, a 6-12 English teacher and English curriculum coordinator; Shawn Riebe, a special education teacher; Kristen Seeger, a librarian, and Amy Skinness, a sixth-grade history teacher.

Buendorf has been with Albert Lea Area Schools for 17 years. She has a master’s degree in education from Southwest Minnesota State University. She is working toward autism spectrum licensure.

Buendorf is on the district autism task force committee and has presented on topics related to autism and technology use at the state level.

She is originally from Crookston and has been teaching in Albert Lea for 17 of her 20 years in education.

In her biography, Buendorf said her students inspire her.

“My students fascinate me on a daily basis, and I consider it a privilege to be in their world,” Buendorf said. “It is rewarding to help them find their paths of learning.”

Buendorf said her goal is to promote awareness and a better understanding about autism.

“It is my belief that when misperceptions become insights, better relationships are built and more learning can occur,” Buendorf wrote in her biography.

She lives on a farm with her husband and two sons, Mason, 9, and Henry, 8. She enjoys reading, sewing and time with her family. The Teacher of the Year award included a check, which will be put toward helping students in the classroom.