Middle school vocal music teacher named Albert Lea Teacher of the Year

Published 8:03 pm Wednesday, April 5, 2023

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Mary Bissen, a middle school vocal music teacher, was named the 2023 Albert Lea Teacher of the Year during an awards ceremony in the high school commons.

“I’m very, very honored,” Bissen said, describing fellow finalists Sophie Claussen, Jeremy Corey-Gruenes, Andrew Gustafson, Robin Hundley and Staci Waltman as incredible.

Bissen admitted she was surprised, and thanked the person who nominated her as well as the Teacher of the Year Committee.

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“It’s not an easy committee to sit on, I’m sure,” she said. “To make those decisions has got to be extremely tough — it’s an honor.”

While introducing the finalists, Kevin Gentz, the 2021 Teacher of the Year, said it was fun to listen to the things people said about the finalists.

“It really is a joy,” Gentz said.

In a letter from Bissen’s colleagues Gentz read to the audience, Bissen was described as passionate and a person who consistently strived to make connections with students and pushed them to be their best.

“People love your positivity and your energy and your enthusiasm,” he read. “You are a collaborator, you’re caring.

“You have a kind and generous heart and a quick wit.”

Laura Wangen, a reading extension teacher in the district, thanked Bissen for her dedication to education  while leading choirs to produce “powerful and meaningful songs.”

“It is absolutely amazing to witness this lady, as she uses many, many positive and engaging attention-getters,” she said. 

In his opening remarks, Superintendent Ron Wagner emphasized the work that teachers and educators do to impact lives every day, and said it was teachers who impacted future scientists, engineers and architects.

“They’re the ones that give the hope, the inspiration to our students to become what they want to be,” he said. “Here in Albert Lea those are our values, and we’re surrounded by excellence.”

The presenters also recognized the other finalists during the presentation before announcing the winner. 

Sophie Claussen is a kindergarten teacher at Halverson Elementary School. Gentz read part of her nomination letter

“Her ability to remain calm and meet the needs of her students makes her a rare gem,” he said.

Jeremy Corey-Gruenes teaches English at the high school. 

“Jeremy is uniquely talented in finding a way to thread the needle of holding students accountable to high standards while being positive and supportive,” Gentz said.

In referencing Gustafson’s nomination letter, Gentz said Gustafson, a math teacher at the Area Learning Center, is a true leader, problem-solver and action taker. 

Hundley teaches math at Southwest Middle School and Gentz said she goes above and beyond. 

“She is consistently helping students with homework early in the mornings numerous times throughout the week,” he said, referencing her nomination. 

Waltman, the media specialist at Halverson Elementary School, is collaborative and always willing to try something new with students that aligns student standards, he said.

On another note, former Albert Lea Teacher of the Year Burke Egner did not advance for consideration as a finalist for Mininesota Teacher of the Year. Egner is the  technology integration coordinator and robotics coach at both the middle and high school.