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'Most important part is kids'

Mindy Nielsen, center, receives the 2009 Education Minnesota Detroit Lakes Teacher of the Year Award from past recipients, Shan Manke, from left, Nora Anderson, Robin Turnwall and Dennis Kral.

Late last month, about 150 people gathered to honor the 2009 Education Minnesota Teacher of the Year. Though she didn't know it until her name was announced, fifth grade Rossman Elementary teacher Mindy Nielsen took home the award.

The three nominated teachers this year were Nielsen, Colleen Vollmers and Claudia Welte.

Nielsen took a few minutes out of her schedule to answer a few questions pertaining to her new title.

What is the nominating process?

The nominating process starts in the fall. All of the teachers receive a ballot to nominate a teacher. After this the Teacher of the Year committee takes the top 3 and sends out another ballot. The staff then votes from the three selected. I was nominated with Colleen Vollmers and Claudia Welte.

Did you know before the meeting at the Legion that you would be given the honor?

No, I didn't know anything other then each of us would be introduced and then they would make the announcement. I really didn't expect to receive this honor. Both Claudia and Colleen are wonderful, caring veteran teachers. I assumed one of them would be named Teacher of the Year. I was honored to just be named one of the three.

What were your first thoughts when your name was announced?

I was caught off guard. I heard my name and immediately thought, "Wow! I have to talk in front of all these people. What am I going to say?" I hadn't planned on talking, so I was scrambling as I walked up to the front. I tend to get a little emotional when I talk about what I do and what I believe in. This was/has been a very humbling experience for me.

Tell me a little about your, teaching jobs, how you ended up at Rossman?

I grew up living in Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota. I moved to Moorhead when I was 9. It was my 4th elementary school as a 4th grader. My teachers were so welcoming when I started in Moorhead.

After graduating, I went to the University of North Dakota. I had planned on either exercise physiology or social work as a career when I first started. I had always been busy playing sports in high school, so I was fortunate I didn't have to work.

One of my favorite elementary teachers, Jim Nigg, was in charge of the Migrant School in Moorhead when I was looking for my first job. I was hired as a Physical Education Assistant after my first year of college. I immediately knew this was what I wanted to do. I spent five summers working as both the phy ed assistant as well as a classroom assistant. I majored in Elementary Physical Education and Elementary Education.

After graduating with my teaching degree, I was hired in Lake Park/Audubon as a 4th grade teacher. I taught for one year, then was lucky enough to get hired in Detroit Lakes. I taught 6th grade in Callaway for five years, then moved to Elementary Physical Education for three years. In 1998, I moved back into the classroom, 5th grade, at Rossman, which is where I am today.

What do you like most about teaching?

The most important part for me is the kids. Every day is different. I love change, and in a classroom with 26 10 and 11 year olds, things change by the moment.

I have the opportunity every day to make a difference to a child. I have always believed that if a child can laugh, feel like their voice matters and have a sense of belonging when they walk into their class, then the learning is the easy part.

Every day is filled with "Ah ha" moments, when something a child is struggling with finally makes sense. The smile and high five I get when they get it is worth everything. I also love a good book. Each year I challenge myself to help each child find the reader within themselves. Even the most reluctant reader can find an author they love, and when they do a door opens up for them. It makes my day when a child comes up and want to talk about the book they are reading. It's priceless.

What have you seen as some of the biggest changes in teaching over the years?

Technology is one of the biggest changes since I started. When Rob and I got married, the first year I taught, we received an Apple IIgs for a wedding present. We thought that was amazing. Then when the Internet came to Callaway, it was even more amazing.

Now as I teach using a SMARTboard each day, I am even more in awe of what we have available to us. I can't wait to figure out something else to do to engage kids. I can't believe the amount of information my student's have at their fingertips today as compared to when I started teaching.

Kids are certainly wired differently today as well. Adapting to their styles of learning and trying to incorporate technology into their learning is a very important aspect of teaching for me

Any other information you'd like to add?

Had I been better prepared to speak at the Teacher of the Year reception, I would have made sure to thank Jim Granger and Marcia Potvin for all of the mentoring they did with me when I first started teaching. I was out at Callaway as the only 6th grade teacher. They spent a lot of time sending me ideas, support and great advice.

I am very honored to have been named Teacher of the Year. I truly believe all of our teachers deserve this honor. We have four children in our District. Each year I am grateful for the opportunity for them to have caring, dedicated educators that believe in them. They are better learners and people because of the teachers that they have crossed paths with.