Lake Park-Audubon teacher nominated for 2022 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Nominated by a colleague, Lake Park-Audubon Special Education Teacher Traci Raknerud is in the running for 2022 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. She is one of 77 finalists for the award, of which the winner will be announced in May.

Minnesota Teacher of the Year nominee Traci Raknerud poses in front of trophy case at Lake Park Audubon High School
Minnesota Teacher of the Year nominee Traci Raknerud poses in front of trophy case at Lake Park Audubon High School
(Grant Evans / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Lake Park-Audubon High School Special Education teacher Traci Raknerud doesn't show reverence for awards, or else she hides it well. One of 77 finalists for Minnesota's 2022 Teacher of the Year, she approaches the nomination with a humble demeanor.

Raknerud emphasizes empathy for her students, and advocates for a better understanding of those struggling with disabilities.

In her infancy, Raknerud lived in Germany for a year, but the vast majority of her life was spent in Lake Park. Her father was a member of the Army National Guard, where he forged a career in the military. Her mother worked a number of jobs, and has had a huge impact on Raknerud's life.

"My mother is one of the most intelligent people I know and has been the most influential person in my life," Raknerud said.

After graduating from Lake Park High School, she attended Minnesota State University-Moorhead to pursue a degree in child psychology. A turn of circumstances brought her to an impasse.


"I just didn't jive with the professor that I would have for several years," Raknerud said. "So I went and took an aptitude test, and the results suggested (I become) a special ed teacher."

"I nominated Traci for her exemplary teacher traits and skills. Traci focuses and believes in her students."
-Diane Jordan, Raknerud's colleague

Since graduating from MSUM, Raknerud has spent 28 years teaching young people with cognitive delays and other disabilities. She said her passion for working with children and young adults is due to their positive energy and enthusiasm for life and learning.

"Over all of my years of teaching, one of the biggest things I have learned is the ability to meet my students where they're at, and understand what's going on in their lives," Raknerud said. "There are so many demands in school, and if we knew what was going on in their lives and inside their minds — sometimes it's a wonder how they can be here and focus on anything."

Raknerud was nominated by colleague Diane Jordan, who wrote to the Minnesota Teacher of the Year program: "Through her (Raknerud's) gifts of caring conversation and creative teaching techniques, she reaches the unreachable student."

Jordan understands Raknerud's compassion for her students, and wants the community to understand the challenges those students face.

"I nominated Traci for her exemplary teacher traits and skills. Traci focuses and believes in her students. As a special education teacher, Traci collaborates with a team to ensure each child reaches their full potential and capabilities," Jordan told the Tribune in an e-mail. "At times she really needs to champion for them. Her occupation is very difficult. She is funny, genuine and a pleasure to work with. I am so pleased she is representing our school as the 2022 Teacher of the Year."

Raknerud's goals are to help students find their passion, do work that is productive and help them become independent, she said.

"The majority of the students with whom I work are those with specific learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, other health disorders, physical impairments, autism spectrum disorders, or speech/language impairments." Raknerud wrote in an e-mail.


Dealing with COVID-19 as a teacher was stressful, she said, and even now that mandates have relaxed there are still challenges for teachers.

"I think for all of the teachers, finding time to meet all the demands put on us (is challenging), and that has grown over the years," Raknerud said. "Any time we do have is taken up by meetings — that's probably the biggest challenge, time, and then recently, too, there's such a rise in children's mental health issues."

When Raknerud isn't teaching she enjoys the movies of actor Will Ferrell, particularily the comedy "Step Brothers." She listens to country music, citing Carrie Underwood as her favorite singer, and the American version of "The Office" is her favorite television show. She also really enjoys spending time with her family and friends, singing karaoke and attending local events.

Raknerud is the mother of three children: Chase Zeller, 28, Riley Carlson,18, and Sylas Carlson, 16, and is a grandmother to granddaughter Natalie, age 1.

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