Teachers making a difference, inspiring possibilities

by Mary Wolverton

A teacher has great possibilities to inspire a student to not only to achieve but, more importantly, to dream of the many possibilities in that student’s future. If you are a parent, grandparent or a young person, you know the value that a teacher may have had on truly making a difference in your life.

Many of us can reflect on our educational experiences and think of a teacher that truly made a difference in our lives. That may have been a teacher who supported learning at a challenging time, a teacher who inspired or maybe a teacher who instilled a hope of a possibility we had not considered.

Ms. Root, my ninth-grade algebra teacher, is that person who made a lasting impression. Her passion for teaching and her sincere commitment to all students was present every day. She instilled expectations for every student in her classroom and motivated each of us to meet those expectations. Her support, encouragement and smile were always there for students she served.

As I reflect on my own children’s education in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, they too experienced many teachers like Ms. Root. As a parent, I had many positive experiences with teachers in our district during my children’s academic careers.

In the last few years, I have been fortunate to spend time in all of our elementary schools. In observing classrooms and in conversations with teachers, what has been obvious is the high level of commitment so many of our teachers have in supporting our students and helping them to achieve at high levels. An excellent example in our elementary schools is that they have been highly successful, at the state level, in closing the achievement gap in reading. This does not happen without having a great teacher in front of our students.

A great deal of research has been completed in the past few decades on the independent factor that a teacher can have on student achievement. The ability of the teacher to provide a positive learning environment is as equally critical as the instructional strategies, classroom management and classroom curriculum design they use each day.

On May 6, the 48th Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be named. One hundred eleven teachers across the state of Minnesota were nominees for this distinction. In that process, four Anoka-Hennepin teachers were candidates for consideration. Dana Coleman (Andover Elementary), Carrie Genser (Adams Elementary), Neil Eerdmans (Oxbow Elementary) and Lisa Torbenson (Coon Rapids Middle School) are wonderful representatives for their colleagues from the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

In interviews with the candidates, their comments are testimony to everything that goes into excellent teaching. Genser notes, “Teaching students to display kindness, compassion, integrity, trust and respect is what I strive for with my students.” She adds that in her daily experiences, she believes learning is reciprocal in her classroom.

Torbenson shares, “I love the challenge of reaching all of my learners. I love to work with my colleagues to figure out the best ways to assess students and then seeing growth in students. And I love the students’ stories. There are so many students who come through the doorway and they have sad stories and fun loving stories.”

Coleman connects with her students by talking about “filling each other’s buckets.” She tells students if they do good deeds, they get good in return. This reinforces manners, speaking and doing kind things to and for others – not just in their classroom, but also in life.”

Eerdmans teaches second grade at Oxbow Creek, where every student knows they are “Beautiful, brilliant and amazing. My mom taught me that the most valuable lessons in education are cheer for everybody, respect everybody and believe in them so they believe in themselves.”

We congratulate each of those four candidates on their nominations and know that they represent their colleagues in the Anoka-Hennepin District well. Neil Eerdmans has moved forward in the process as one of 43 semi-finalists. Wishing him well in the process, it reminds me that this is a wonderful time to thank teachers for the difference they are making in our student’s lives. Please take a moment to acknowledge a teacher for the difference they have made in your life, or the life of someone you know.

Mary Wolverton is the associate superintendent for elementary schools in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

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