Guest column: Thank teachers for the difference they make

Published 8:45 pm Friday, March 31, 2023

Guest column by Mary Hinnenkamp

As I was growing up, I remember the radio constantly played in the kitchen. My parents listened to a local station called KASM out of Albany, Minnesota, to get the farm market reports, weather reports, local news and music. Paul Harvey was a famous broadcast figure at that time and was a fixture on many stations. He was so popular and well known that he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And at least once a year the station would play Paul Harvey’s broadcast of “So God Made a Farmer,” a show that praised the hard work and character of farmers. My dad and mom, hard-working farmers, loved the show. They would stop everything and just sit and listen. If you listen to it now, and you can, it sounds pretty corny. But I think my parents loved it because it was a recognition of the significance of their hard work, one that they didn’t hear or see in their everyday lives.

Mary Hinnenkamp

People don’t tend to even think of farmers when they buy their butter or a pound of hamburger at the store, let alone thank them. Paul Harvey did.

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I retired from teaching a few years ago, and I was lucky in my career. I helped kids who were older and were struggling to finish and earn their high school diploma. When they were successful, they thanked all of us, the teachers and me. But so much of the time, this just doesn’t happen to teachers. They work hard, teach skillfully, reach out to kids with kindness and concern, and typically the students just move on to the next grade, to the next class. This is the nature of teaching, but it is unfortunate, especially when teaching has only gotten harder and often feels less rewarding. Families and kids are still coming out of the pandemic and schools and teachers are still struggling to help them cope.

And this is where the Teacher of the Year (TOY) Committee comes in. Each year, students, teachers and parents nominate a teacher who has made a difference in the lives of their child, their student. This year, 71 teachers were nominated to be our Albert Lea Area Schools Teacher of the Year. The words of the nominations tell the story:

Parents nominated teachers for their talent, dedication, patience, extra support, love, acceptance, grace, for working with families, understanding their child and “setting up my daughter … for long term success.”

Students nominated teachers who saw them, really saw them, even in the hubbub and commotion of the classroom. Students highlighted teacher qualities such as being nice, smiling, fun, caring, having a good sense of humor, smelling nice, giving good hugs, helping them to learn, making them feel confident, and because their teacher “never lets us give up on our dreams,” and “makes us feel safe.”

And teachers can spot that really good teacher a mile off. I remember as a teacher once standing in the hallway watching a really good teacher at work, awestruck. Teachers nominated colleagues who are dedicated, supportive, helpful, skilled, compassionate, respectful, a team player, a role model, someone who comes early and stays late, and a teacher who is “caring, kind and servant-hearted.”

The TOY Committee will announce our choice for Teacher of the Year on Wednesday. That teacher will no doubt feel recognized and appreciated. But each of us, every student, parent, grandparent can reach out to a teacher and thank them with a note or email. When I was teaching, these thank you notes and expressions of gratitude certainly mattered to me. I held on to them, kept them in my teaching bag. Sometimes, especially on a tough day, I pulled them out and read them, grounding myself in the conviction that my work as a teacher mattered and made a difference.

Mary Hinnenkamp is a retired teacher and member of the Teacher of the Year Committee for Albert Lea Area Schools.