Guest Column: It’s a difficult choice for Teacher of the Year

Published 6:53 pm Friday, March 29, 2019

Guest Column by Mary Hinnenkamp

Mary Hinnenkamp


I went to Catholic school throughout my elementary years. My teachers were a sea of nuns, with one exception: my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Finken. While the sisters were kind and competent, Mrs. Finken was a terrific teacher. I most appreciate how she tried to instill in all of her students a love of reading. Every day after our noon recess, she would read to us for a half-hour or so. She read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “Anne of Green Gables,” “Silver Chief” and many others. I suspect that one of her goals was to settle us down after recess, but I am sure her main goal was to ensure we loved reading. 

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We all know reading is essential for success in school and work, but I think reading also is necessary for a full and meaningful life. I know books have carried me through many life changes and crises. When my twin sons were born, I read the complete works of Agatha Christie. For some reason, at that time of my life, mysteries were the tonic I needed. That’s why I was so happy to see that the Albert Lea School District is implementing a new reading program, Really Great Reading. It is a phonics program that will enable all students to become proficient readers.  Hard-working teachers are learning it, practicing it and using it in their classes now.   This is just one more example of what really great teaching we have in our school district today. On top of all their other duties, teachers in all subject areas are constantly learning, innovating and implementing new information, new programs and new strategies in order to be more effective teachers.

In the past few weeks, the Teacher of the Year Committee has received 61 nominations for the 2019 Albert Lea Teacher of the Year. It is refreshing in these very cynical times to read about such skilled, inspirational and kind teachers.   

Over and over, teachers expressed admiration of other teachers who are skilled, creative, respectful, dedicated, hardworking and professional. They appreciated fellow teachers who are “role models,” who “brightened their day,” who inspire them to be the best teachers that they can be.   As one teacher wrote, “She models to the students what it is like to be a responsible, respectful, kind, hard worker, creative and generous.”

Parents expressed admiration and gratitude for teachers who go the extra mile for their child by reaching out, communicating and looking out for the needs of their child. A parent describes her daughter’s teacher as someone “…who pushes children to be their best with this overwhelming kindness that radiates from within him.”

And students? These are always the most delightful nominations. When a kindergartener painstakingly writes out a form expressing gratitude and love for their teacher — what a treasure. When a middle schooler says that a teacher “believes in me,” “encourages me never to give up,” “makes math fun,” or “makes me feel happy and excited to go to school” — it’s remarkable. And when a high schooler nominates a teacher who “makes me believe in learning,” “makes class fun and something to look forward to,” and “gives his students hope in a better future” — wow! 

I know teachers are grateful for the nominations and support they get from the community as a whole. With that in mind, on behalf of the committee, we wish to thank Markquart Chevrolet of Albert Lea for the ongoing financial award they give to the Teacher of the Year for use in his or her classroom. It is, as with all support, much appreciated. The 2019 Teacher of the Year finalist will be chosen by the committee and announced on Wednesday. With so many deserving teachers, it will be a difficult choice.

Mary Hinnenkamp is a member of the Teacher of the Year Commitee.