Longtime Southwest Middle School teacher named Teacher of the Year

Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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Southwest Middle School teacher Wendy Greenfield was named the 2024 Albert Lea Area Schools Teacher of the Year on Wednesday in a formal ceremony at the Barn of Chapeau Shores.

Greenfield, who teaches seventh-grade social studies, has been at the middle school for 28 years and also is an instructional coach for other teachers.

This was her fourth time as a finalist for the recognition.

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Greenfield said she was stunned to hear she had won and said she appreciated all of the other six finalists.

“Teaching is such an important profession, and it has been the honor of my life to be a teacher, and it’s something that I’m so proud to be a part of …” she said. “I see this as recognition for a lifetime of service to Albert Lea students, and I do really appreciate that.”

She said teaching is something you cannot do by yourself, and if she has had any success in her career it has been because she has been inspired by so many amazing teachers around her.  She accepted the award on behalf of all these teachers who supported her over the years.

“Teaching in many respects is more than just a career — it’s your identity,” she said.

Other finalists included Halverson Elementary School kindergarten teacher Sophie Claussen, Hawthorne Elementary School physical education teacher Jeff Groth, Area Learning Center teacher Andrew Gustafson, Albert Lea High School teacher Mindy Kruger, Albert Lea High School teacher Therese Netzer and Sibley Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Erika Youlden.

Before announcing the recipient of the award, Albert Lea school board Chairwoman Kim Nelson shared an experience she had while in high school that illustrated the impact teachers make on their students.

She said in the time she was in school, guidance counselors guided students to attend four-year schools and students were always asked what college they wanted to go to. One day, she went into the guidance counselor’s office and told him she wanted to be a nurse, and to her dismay, he told her she was not a candidate for college.

Though she loved her parents, she said the first thing she did after hearing him say that was to go to her favorite teacher, who provided her support.

“You all have that person in your life — how they made you feel. …” she said. “You are that person for so many students.”

In addition to the official title, Greenfield was presented with a bell from Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shari Sprague and $1,000 from Wuerflein Chevrolet GMC in Albert Lea.

Before the presentation of the winner, Superintendent Ron Wagner said he enjoyed finding out more about each of the finalists from the answers they provided to a series of questions. He read an answer from Netzer about what advice she would give to teachers just starting out in the district.

“Hang on,” Netzer wrote. “You will likely make a lot of mistakes and feel like this career isn’t for you. But it is! You can make a difference and see why this job is the greatest in the world.”

“That is why we’re here,” Wagner said. “Our seven finalists are making a difference. Our staff are making a difference.”

He said each day teachers are impacting the lives of students, even if they may not know it.

Albert Lea Education Association Secretary Laura Wangen reminded teachers of the importance of taking care of themselves outside of the classroom and to take part in healthy activities outside of school that help them feel refreshed.

Middle school teacher Mary Bissen, the 2023 Teacher of the Year, said when teachers have a rough day, it is important for them to remember the people in their lives who first sparked their desire to be a teacher.

“You are here today because you have been that person for someone else,” Bissen said to the seven finalists. “You have been nominated and chosen as a finalist because you’ve impacted your students, your colleagues and our district.”

She said she has been excited to carry the torch as the Teacher of the Year during the last year and said the flame of that torch is the symbol of the rewarding, important job they get to do as teachers, the people who inspired them to do it, the students they teach for and the colleagues who work beside them.

“It has been such an honor to be part of the flame since I became a teacher and to be the torch carrier for the last year,” Bissen said. “I’m very excited and grateful to pass it along today.”