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Becker is Teacher of the Year at Lake Park-Audubon Schools

Lake Park-Audubon High School science teacher Shelly Becker shows off one of two pet turtles residing in her classroom this fall. Becker was recently chosen as Teacher of the Year for LP-A Public Schools. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

Though teaching isn’t something that Rochelle Becker seriously considered as a career choice during her childhood years in Gilby, N.D., or even while obtaining her bachelor of science degree in biology from the University of North Dakota, she’s never lacked passion for the field of science, in all its many forms.

“To me, it’s fascinating to learn about why things happen in the world around us,” she says. “I’ve always been very curious, and science is good for that.”

Since taking on her first secondary education position as a science instructor at Lake Park-Audubon High School seven years ago, however, Becker has also reveled in the opportunity to imbue her students with that same passion.

“I never taught high school students before I came here, but I love it,” she says. “I love all the opportunities for passing on my passion for science to my students — for getting them interested in the world around them.”

That love and enthusiasm for her work led to Becker being chosen as Teacher of the Year for Lake Park-Audubon Public Schools earlier this month.

“I found out last Thursday, Nov. 14,” Becker says. “It’s a very big honor, because I know the other teachers from among whom I’m being selected.”

At the same time, Becker said, she feels she is no more or less deserving of the honor than her colleagues at LP-A.

“They all care about the kids and strive to help every one of them do their best,” Becker said.

But she is also excited to be representing the district in the Minnesota Teacher of the Year competition.

“I’ll get the application packet in January,” she said, noting a little ruefully that she’s been told it’s a pretty large packet.

The district will also be hosting a breakfast for her in January — where her colleagues and students may have a few things to say about why they think she’s deserving of the award, as well as relating a few potentially embarrassing classroom anecdotes.

“It’s a little scary (to contemplate),” Becker said with a laugh.

Though she briefly taught a life sciences class to seventh graders, most of Becker’s classroom work over the past seven years has involved teaching biological science classes like college biology (for which students receive college credit via M State), anatomy, forensics and even taxidermy — the latter being part of her field biology class.

“I also give extra credit when they bring in things from nature and tell the class about it,” Becker said, noting that some of the things students brought in have included a deer skull, a wasp’s nest, stuffed fish and birds.

“It’s all great, because they’re looking for science in the world around them, and not just in a textbook,” she says.

This year, Becker has also taken on teaching chemistry, since the class is a new graduation requirement.

“Students have to take a year of chemistry or physics to graduate,” she said.

Fortunately, in addition to her B.S. degree in biology, Becker also had a minor in chemistry, which enabled her to take on the additional classes.

Though she loves her work, Becker is the first one to admit that she never expected to become a teacher during her childhood years, nor even while earning her undergraduate degree — which involved taking classes not only at UND in Grand Forks, but also at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, North Dakota State University in Fargo, and even the University of Queensland, in Australia.

It was in Australia that Becker had the opportunity to study the Great Barrier Reef, up close and personal, as well as to spend some time in the country’s rainforests, studying the flora and fauna.

“It was an incredible opportunity,” she said. “The biology there is so different from here.”

Her first employment was as a graduate instructor at UND, and later, she spent five years in veterinary medicine, working as a veterinary technician in both Grand Forks and later, Oregon — where husband Corey was working on obtaining his degree in optometry.

Married for 15 years, Corey and Rochelle (most often referred to by friends and family as “Shelly”) are in the process of raising their two young children, son Luke, 9, and daughter Erin, 7, who are in the 4th and 2nd grade, respectively, at Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School.

After Corey took a job working as an optometrist at the Air Force base in Grand Forks, Becker considered going back to school to become a licensed veterinarian — but the closest opportunity she had to complete the necessary coursework was at the University of Minnesota, so she opted to get her teaching certificate instead.

Sometimes it’s the unanticipated career choices that end up being the right ones. When her husband was hired as an optometrist at Walmart in Detroit Lakes, she applied for a position as a science instructor at LP-A, and hasn’t looked back.

“I loved what I was doing,” Becker said, adding that she enjoys the challenge of trying to imbue a love for science and nature in her students.

“I have taught life sciences, and that was fun, but high school students are a little more mature, and the material is a little more complex,” she continued. “Breaking down that material and getting them to understand it is more challenging.

“I love it.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454