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MN2020 - Here’s To You, Minnesota Teachers
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Here’s To You, Minnesota Teachers

February 16, 2011 By Valerie Ong, Education Fellow

Most conservatives would argue that teacher quality can be measured by student achievement quantified by test scores. Want to improve the quality of a teacher? No problem, just tie their salary incentive to the test scores.

But that ignores the fact that most teachers choose to teach because they actually enjoy working with students, recognize a need, or believe in a child’s potential.

Nominees for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year program embody these characteristics. While Education Minnesota organizes the annual award, nominations are open to Pre-K-12 teachers from public, private and parochial schools. The teacher selected represents all Minnesota educators as a spokesperson and education advocate.

Doug Dooher, Public Affairs Specialist for Education Minnesota, explains the program’s goal is to shine light on education’s positives and on Minnesota’s excellent teaching force. The winner is not Minnesota’s best teacher but a teacher who can best represent Minnesota’s teaching force, explains Dooher.

The current Teacher of the Year is Ryan Vernosh, a 5th grade teacher at St. Paul’s Maxfield Magnet School. Colleague Kristy Pierce, who nominated him, says “Ryan has the ‘it’ factor.” Pierce believes Vernosh has the ability to facilitate learning and does not teach lessons simply for the sake of doing so. Instead, Vernosh recognizes when students are disengaged, and re-works the lesson plan, adapting new ideas that engage them. For example, Vernosh uses rap music to make math learning more relevant to his students.

Vernosh says he holds “an unshakable belief that all students can and will learn no matter the circumstance. Students living in poverty, students with exceptional needs, students from historically disenfranchised populations, all can and will succeed in my classroom.”

He seeks to make a daily impact on the young people he works with by building relationships with his students, holding them accountable, and providing a safe space where students can feel understood, learn, and grow among other things.

Derek Olson, a 6th grade teacher at Stillwater’s Afton-Lakeland Elementary School was the 2008 Teacher of the Year. His colleague and teammate Steve Bliven recommended Olson because he is someone who “walks the talk.” In his recommendation, Bliven wrote “Mr. O creates a classroom environment that is alive and in which students feel confident to go outside their boxes and try new adventures. Along with connections, growth is emphasized day after day. Derek does a remarkable job of fostering a safe growing environment where students don’t compare themselves to others, but to themselves and their own growth.”

Oslon shares the belief of poet William Butler Yeats who wrote “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” He views his profession as a way to make an impact on the world. He enjoys watching children learn.

Olson tries to focus on meeting students at their level, helping each reach his or her potential. He is more concerned with growth and learning than test scores. Similarly, he sees value in moving away from one-dimensional learning. One of Olson’s current students says she “loves” Olson’s class because she can learn new things in ways that are not boring.

The Teacher of the Year attends several events and national conferences in addition to his or her regular classroom position, unlike some states where the winner takes a year away from the class. Olson gladly remained with his students and turned his experiences into learning opportunities for his classes.

Vernosh sees the award’s platform as a way to promote his students’ achievements. “Kids deserve to have their brilliance shouted out to the public,” he says.

Both Vernosh and Olson represent Minnesota’s strong teaching force. They represent regular Minnesota educators who are fully committed to their students and willing to do all they can to enable their students to reach their highest potential.

Overall teaching skills, not a simple test score, drive this award process. Nominated teachers earned students’, parents’, peers’, and administrators’ respect and demonstrated an ability to motivate learners. Nominated educators demonstrate a commitment to teaching and their students. These traits cannot be quantified in test scores. The Teacher of the Year award highlights teacher excellence, a quality we should affirm in teachers, not just try to quantify.

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