BEA first grade teacher earns Teacher of the Year award
This year’s Teacher of the Year at Blue Earth Area has been chosen. She has taught students for 31 years and continues to dedicate time both before and after class to her students and their families.
Sue Schoenfelder was one of three finalists, alongside her husband Roger Schoenfelder who teaches chemistry at BEA High School and Robyn Beach-Olson who teaches kindergarten at BEA?Elementary School.
The Teacher of the Year is an award chosen by the educator’s peers. That means that Sue Schoenfelder was the standout amongst her teaching peers.
“While I am thankful for the honor, I do think we are all deserving,” says Schoenfelder. “We all work hard. We all put in extra time for our students. We have a really cool job. We get to prepare our future generations for life-long learning. That’s the real honor.”
Schoenfelder says she has always liked learning. She remembers having great teachers growing up, and says she enjoyed her teachers more as an adult.
“In college, teaching is what stood out for me,” she says. “I never had that one teacher who impacted me enough to pursue teaching, but in a way, they all did. But I’ve always been interested in learning, too.”
Currently, Schoenfelder teaches first grade at BEA. Her first year as a teacher, back in 1988, was also for first graders. She says she has taught first grade for approximately seven years of her career, has taught kindergarten for another seven years, and the rest of her time, 17 years, has been dedicated to early childhood education.
When asked what makes a Teacher of the Year, Schoenfelder’s response speaks to the deeper level of education that most of the public does not see.
Most of the public sees decorative classrooms, maybe they will sit in on a lyceum or concert or two, and parents have the opportunity to go to parent-teacher conferences, but for Schoenfelder and many other teachers, there is far more to it.
“A teacher looks at a student and sees the whole child,” she says. “What they have come to school with today, what they have to go home to, and my goal is to have every student want to learn for a lifetime. A teacher of the year, or any teacher for that matter, looks at each child as an individual. Not just a student to impart our lesson plans on, but a person with stresses, doubts, concerns, and impacts of their own. That’s the exhausting part of being a teacher, but it’s crucial. It’s necessary.”
She also shares that an impactful teacher is there for their students and for their peers. Education, for Sue, is about cooperation, communication, and working together as a team.
“There are so many things we, as teachers, can learn from each other. We are all carrying similar loads of work and to be able to help each other with that load by carrying it with many hands makes the work easier,” she explains.
Public education is seeing a rough road throughout the United States right now, from state legislation to budget reductions and large-scale conversations on the progress of public education. And, for Schoenfelder, after being a public teacher for 30-plus years, it is important that the public be just as active in education as parents and students.
“Support our students. Start with your kids; have great communication with them and with their school, the city, and the state,” she says. “Vote for initiatives that progress beyond your own student. These children are all of our children. Become involved in the school and city events offered and advocate for children.”
For such a student-centric teacher, there are highs and lows in any classroom. Schoenfelder says one of the great highlights is knowing that every day is a new day.
“You get to start fresh everyday, so if yesterday was a rough one, there’s a whole new opportunity to bring optimism to the table,” says the first grade teacher. “That’s the same feeling each year, too. We have a whole batch of new students with new goals and new challenges.”
Another highlight for Schoenfelder is hearing from her students who are now adults and some of them are parents of their own school-aged children.
“Hearing from families of former students is very impactful for me,” she says. “After 15, 16 years they still remember their time in my classroom that’s when you know you’ve done something right.”
And there are students still at BEA who appreciate what their teacher has done for them in the past.
“Mrs. Schoenfelder deserves Teacher of the Year because she is a great teacher and she makes learning fun,” says current first grader James Remund. “Science is my favorite subject she teaches us. She’s a very nice person and I’m glad I got to be in her class.”
“She is so much fun,” says Brynlee Amundson, another first grader from Mrs. Schoenfelder’s class. “She asks me everyday how my morning is and she says good morning. She is always so nice to me.”
“She is fun because she uses games to teach us math,” says first grader Haedyn Cole. “She is awesome.”
Fourth grader Caiden Sickler was in Mrs. Schoenfelder’s class when she received her first apple-related award in 2016. “Wow, now she has two apples because when I was in her class she was so awesome she won the Golden Apple. She is always so nice to me.”
“Mrs. S explained math in a fun way and made me try hard at reading,” says current fourth grader Traven Zierke.
Sue Schoenfelder teaches in the classroom, but insists that so much learning happens outside of the classroom, as well. To continue any child’s education outside of the classroom, this is BEA’s Teacher of the Year’s most important tip:
“Read with your children. Don’t just hand them a book and let them take off. Read together. They not only learn vocabulary words they may not encounter everyday, but they learn syntax and good communication skills,” she says. “Talk with your kids, not at your kids. Listen to them just as much as they talk. Prove you are listening by asking them questions when they talk about their day. Communication goes both ways, and that communication can start with a good book you read together.”