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Ryan Zunich is DL teacher of the year

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Fifth grade teacher Ryan Zunich was one of the first classes to work with iPads. He was named teacher of the year last week. Paula Quam/Record2 / 2

Fifth grade teacher Ryan Zunich is the Detroit Lakes teacher of the year for the 2012-13 school year, but as he sits behind his busy desk at Rossman Elementary, getting him to take the credit is tough.

“It’s great to be recognized, but you do these things with the people around you,” said Zunich, “and I work with such a great group people who are so helpful, and it’s just cool to be a part of such a great school district. And it goes way beyond the teaching aspect, it’s a caring community that takes care of each other.”

Zunich, a Williston, N.D, native, is a 13-year veteran of teaching, serving students in the tiniest of western North Dakota towns to a large district in Eden Prairie, Minn., and over to Wadena and finally to Detroit Lakes in 2009.

Known around the schools for his willingness to embrace the new iPad initiative that put the technology in the hands of every fifth grader in the district, Zunich has become a “go-to guy” for everything iPad.

With his motto “If you’re in the boat, you’ve gotta row,” Zunich was handed his trophy Tuesday night for Teacher of the Year.

“I think I do things the way a lot of people here do,” said Zunich, “We work really hard and do some cool, innovative things. Maybe I got it because of the way I interact with people; I get along with people and don’t make too much of a big deal of things. When things get tough we work together and plow through it.”

Zunich’s wife, Carey, says she believes what makes him a great teacher is that he’s quick to laugh, quick to forgive and he’s forever optimistic.

“In the morning when the alarm goes off, when he gets out of bed to go to work it’s to take care of those kids and to watch them learn and grow, and that’s really what’s given him purpose in his life,” she said.

And according to his students, it’s working.

“He makes you understand stuff, and he makes jokes with it,” said Anna Cihak, one of his fifth grade students. “And he’s really funny, which makes him really good, and a lot of people understand him when he talks.”

“Ah, he would have easily gotten that (award),” said fifth grader, Gabe Hanninen with a wave of his hand. “He can do anything – he’s good.  He doesn’t get really that mad at us … he’s funny, too.”

That “funny man” says although he almost went into business instead of teaching, he’s glad he didn’t because now he gets to be around kids every day, and he’s determined to put that same joy into them.

“Kids have to like being here; they have to like coming to school,” said Zunich. “You’ve got to form a relationship with students so that they want to be here, and if you can get them in the door and be happy with it, you can get them to learn.  As long as they feel safe and comfortable, then you can do a lot of great things in class.”

To see what more students had to say about their teacher and his big honor, check out the video on