Local educator named top career, tech teacher

Deb Olsen, an instructor in Anoka-Hennepin’s Pathways program, is taking the idea of preparing students for life to a whole new level.

For her work, Olsen was named the 2014 Outstanding Career and Technical Teacher of the Year by the Minnesota Association for Career and Technical Education/Special Needs Personnel.

Deb Olsen

Deb Olsen

“I was very surprised, honored and humbled by the realization that this was really happening to me,” Olsen said.

Olsen, who has been with the district since 2000, went back to school to get her work experience handicap coordinator license, which led to her working with employment and postsecondary needs for transition students.

Olson has been working in the district’s Pathways program since it was developed in 2011. Pathways is one of the district’s special education transition sites; it provides students ages 18-21 with opportunities to develop independent and competitive work skills and plan for a career.

Kathryn Ferguson, Pathways supervisor, has worked with Olsen for four years.

“She has been instrumental in the development of the Pathways program. She has an incredible ability to develop strong relationships and partnerships with students, staff and community members,” Ferguson said. “She is typically the first one to arrive at work and the last one to leave. Her dedication to the program is unending.”

It’s a privilege to work with Olsen and watch the development and continuous improvement of not just her, but the program as a whole, Ferguson added.

“We are all proud of Deb’s achievements and feel honored to work with such an incredible professional,” Ferguson said. “She is a leader, team player and awesome educator.”

Olsen was recognized at the statewide MnACTE/SNP conference in Brooklyn Park.

“I’m honored to be part of such an incredibly talented and dedicated group of professionals. Each day I witness people coming to work with their focus being on what is best for the young adults we work with,” Olsen said.

A day in the life of Olsen is one that involves being flexible, no matter how organized and prepared she is for the day.

“It’s important to be flexible and ‘catch’ the teachable moments within the reality of the classroom,” she said. “Some of the most meaningful class discussions have come about because of the ‘unplanned’ ideas that entered the environment.”

As an educator, Olsen enjoys being a “seed planter” for her students.

“We can plant seeds (ideas, thoughts), but we cannot make growth happen,” she said. “Our young adults get to make that choice. My classic line is, ‘Change may not always happen on our watch.’ As human beings, we all have the ‘aha’ moments when we are ready to hear, absorb and learn.”

Olsen knows she is influencing students, she said.

“Teaching is an influential profession,” she said. “We all remember teachers that positively or negatively impacted us. Course content is a building block for knowledge. Recognizing and acknowledging the gifts within people is life-impacting.”

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