A Spanish immersion teacher and a world cultures teacher have been named Spring Lake Park District 16’s Teachers of the Year.
Amanda Saum, a third-grade teacher in the Spanish Immersion program, and Tricia Miller, a sixth- and seventh-grade teacher at Westwood Middle School, received the honors May 9 at a reception held at BeBop Venue in Blaine.
The honor is awarded at two levels – preschool through elementary and secondary. Educators are nominated by district staff, parents or community members.
The nomination calls for a teacher who inspires students, plays an active role in the school community and is respected and admired by students, parent and colleagues.
The event is sponsored by Spring Lake Park Teachers United, the teacher’s union representing the district’s teachers.
When choosing the winners, the selection committee is not attempting to pick the best teacher, said Kalli Binkowski, co-chairperson for the Teacher of the Year committee at Spring Lake Park High School. “We have so many excellent teachers. We are trying to choose one who represents all the best teachers in our district.”
In her fourth year of teaching, this is Saum’s first year at District 16.
“I was really, really surprised,” Saum said about having received the honor.
When her colleagues a few days before the reception started acting a bit different around her and when her parents announced they might come up from Luverne to visit her for the weekend, Saum suspected something was up.
But when she heard an emcee at the banquet read a Spanish poem in English that one of her students had written, that’s when she realized she had won the honor.
“When I heard her poem, everything clicked,” Saum said.
Before coming to SLP, Saum taught at the middle and high schools in Lake City, fifth- and sixth-graders in the Eden Prairie School District and third- through fifth-graders in St. Paul.
Saum is a graduate of St. Catherine University in St. Paul.
She comes from a long line of educators.
“I wanted to be a teacher since I was in third grade,” she said.
Her philosophy centers on helping kids to better understand themselves and how they learn.
Her nomination came from a family involved in the Spanish Immersion Program.
“It’s special that families have validated my work,” she said.
Had she not gone into teaching, she would have chosen a field in public health in a teaching capacity, helping community members.
She is happy to be teaching in the Spanish Immersion Program at Westwood Intermediate.
Saum acknowledges those who have helped her along her successful path. Her boyfriend Carlos Stewart, a behavior specialist in St. Paul, who gives her support and offers new perspectives on what is best for a child. Tom Larson, principal at Westwood, for his leadership under which she has professionally “grown so much,” she said. And she appreciates working with the Spanish Immersion Program staff, who constantly keep the program moving forward and growing, she said.
The District 16 Teacher of the Year honor is “a vote of confidence that I’ve chosen the right profession,” Saum said.
When emcee Kalli Binkowski announced the winners, rather than using her own words, she read quotes from their students.
One was from a student of Miller’s, who said she was “pretty much the only reason I came to school.”
“The quote she was saying brought tears to my eyes,” said Miller, when she first realized she had been selected. “It was a really cool moment. It was exciting.”
Prior to joining District 16, Miller taught Spanish in the middle and high school in the Columbia Heights School District for two years. She has taught at WWMS since 2006. She first taught eighth-grade Spanish for five years and has been teaching a world cultures class to sixth- and seventh-graders for the last two years at the school.
Her popular service projects are anticipated even before students take her classes. Among projects, she has overseen student-run campaigns to improve conditions half-way across the world. Her students have raised and donated funds to Water for Life, for such far-reaching places as Africa or Haiti, places that don’t have access to clean water. Her students have donated to Nothing But Nets for the purchase of nets to stop the spreading of malaria among children. And Miller’s students have raised funds for Heifer International to buy a cow and chickens for sustainable living in third world countries, to name a few projects.
“I do the project to teach the students that the world is a lot bigger than Blaine, Minn.,” Miller said in an earlier interview.
Miller was raised in Woodbury.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish education from Bethel University in St. Paul and a master’s degree in teaching and learning from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.
Both her mother and father were teachers. At a young age, she began visiting the fourth and fifth grade classrooms of her father, Hal Shaver, twice a year at Valentine Hills Elementary School in the Mounds View School District.
“My dad was an amazing role model for me,” she said.
Her ninth-grade Spanish teacher, Chris Henning, fueled her desire to go into education. He made the class fun.
“I thought ‘that’s what I want to do when I grow up,’” Miller said.
Miller’s teaching philosophy is “they won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
She strives to make students’ days good, she said. She especially enjoys joking with them, and similar to her ninth-grade Spanish teacher, making it fun to learn.
Miller says she teaches among really great colleagues.
Miller is married to her husband, David. They have two children, Gabriel (Gabe), 3, and Cameron (Cam), three-months-old.
“I’m very honored,” she said about being named a Teacher of the Year.
Both Saum and Miller, along with the 30 other teachers who applied for the awards, are nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]