Guest column: District full of outstanding teachers

Published 8:45 pm Friday, April 5, 2024

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Guest column by Mary Hinnenkamp

At an early age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I was lucky. I had many good teachers in elementary school and at Melrose High School. And because of how they made me feel and the skills they taught me, I wanted to become one of them. Ask most teachers, and you will hear the same thing: an inspirational teacher led them to become one.

Mary Hinnenkamp

My seventh-grade teacher at Sacred Heart School stands out. Mrs. Finken was an island in a sea of nuns. She taught all subjects and taught them well. She wanted all of us to be excited about every subject because she was interested in everything. She read to us from great novels, and we worked on fun projects. I remember baby rabbits in a box in the corner of the classroom. I vividly remember looking up from a math problem to see monarch butterflies flitting around the room and settling on the jelly jar lids set out on the window sill.

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In high school, I remember Mr. Lovelace, my 10th-grade English teacher. He encouraged us to read widely, made the work interesting and had us write a paper every week. Imagine that: a teacher taking on the task of having to read, correct and comment on 90 papers each week, in addition to all his other teaching tasks. But he knew that my classmates and I would become better thinkers and writers because of his hard work.

A long tradition of great teaching lives on in our Albert Lea Area Schools.

Recently the Albert Lea Teacher of the Year Committee received 81 nominations for the 2024 Teacher of the Year from students, parents and teachers.

Students submitted the most nominations. Students said over and over again that they appreciate teachers who care, are nice, welcoming, fun, encouraging, understanding, respectful, patient, positive, kind, helpful, upbeat and safe. Some students appreciated the teacher who “makes people excited for school,” “inspired me to be a better person” and “has been there for me at my lowest.” One student wrote, “She showed me that she cared about more than my academics, and saw me as more than bad grades.”

Parents appreciate teachers who helped their child both academically and emotionally. One parent wrote, “He makes kids want to go to school.” Another wrote, “He makes his students feel valued and does all he can to build their confidence….” Another said, “She creates an environment to which kids want to behave, use respect and want to learn.” And lastly, a parent wrote, “She made my child feel like they belong and are exactly who they should be … my child feels safe, understood and loved.”

Teachers appreciate the colleague who “takes the time to understand each student, their backgrounds, how they learn,” “acts first with love and follows with precision,” and “helps her entire team re-evaluate best practices.” Teachers nominated teachers who “teaches students skills that they can take into their lives and will do whatever it takes to fight for them,” who “stays late every day to help students,” and “has made me a better person and a better educator.”

One teacher wrote, “Kids are willing to drop out of school just because of math, but he has a gentle way of helping and supporting each of these students.”

Recently I listened to a program on Minnesota Public Radio addressing the problem schools across the nation are having with student attendance. Too many students of all ages are absent from school far too often, disrupting their learning. The causes are many, too many to list here.

But I was struck by the solution that experts, principals, teachers, researchers and professionals across the board, offered to schools: Students need to know that teachers see them, that they miss them when they are gone and that they care. It is clear our Albert Lea teachers are already doing a remarkable job of reaching out to all our students.

On Wednesday, the Albert Lea Teacher of the Year Committee will announce its selection of this year’s Teacher of the Year. With so many outstanding teachers, it will be a difficult choice.

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