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Teaching team divides, conquers award

Members of the Middleton Elementary fourth grade teaching team - Nora Jankowski, Sara Koehnen, Lisa Peterson, Sarah March and Nicole Filler - have been named the 2011 Educators of the Year by the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce.

Middleton Elementary's fourth grade teaching team - Nora Jankowski, Nicole Filler, Sarah March, Lisa Peterson and Sara Koehnen - works closely together to be the best teaching team it can be.

"We do a lot of divide and conquer," fourth grade teacher Nora Jankowski said. "What's huge about this team is that you don't have to do everything by yourself."

The teamwork has paid off: the team was named the 2011 Educators of the Year by the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce.

The teaching team will be recognized Jan. 20 during the annual Woodbury Chamber Awards Gala at the Prom Center in Oakdale.

"We don't do what we do to get honored in that way," March said. "It's very nice to get the honor."

The team was nominated by a parent, a student and the school's principal Julie Nielsen.

Some of the comments in the nomination read that the team is a "passionate group of amazing women and educators with an immense dedication to their students which defines them."

Nielsen's comments in the nomination letter read: "the fourth grade team is passionate about their work and truly own the learning of each student in the entire grade level. It comes down to their teaching and the changes they need to make to assure that student learning occurs."

The fourth grade team has been working together for varying lengths of time. Jankowski and March have been working together for the past 13 years, Filler and Peterson are on their fifth years and Koehnen is on her fourth.

Jankowski said she and her fellow teachers are very fortunate to be able to come into work every day and do what they love.

"We are so lucky that this doesn't feel like a job most of the time," she said. "Most of the time this is just what we do - this is our life."

All five teachers said they enjoy teaching the fourth graders.

"It's a good age because they're still innocent," Koehnen said.

Peterson and Filler said they like how every year is different.

"One of the benefits of teaching is every year you get a new family since I think of my students as my family," Peterson said.

The five teachers said they relish the teamwork.

Every Wednesday, the teachers get together to discuss their lesson plans for the coming week.

March said it's great being able to bounce ideas off of her fellow teachers to help teach the students the best way possible. She said she relies on her co-teachers' perspectives on many of her ideas.

"You're never alone in anything, so you know you have support," she said. "We push each other to be better."

Even when they disagree, Peterson said it usually works for the better since it helps them develop compromises to find the best way to reach students.

"I don't think any of us would be the teachers we are without each other," she said.

All five teachers said working as a team is beneficial because not only are they able to share ideas and utilize each other's skills, but the students also have multiple people they can turn to for help.

"You know the students are going to be taken care of," Koehnen said.

Nielsen said the team's dedication to all fourth grade students, and not just those in their class, is what makes them such a valuable asset to Middleton Elementary.

"The focus has always been on all of the kids, not just the kids in their homeroom," she said. "They really own every kid in their entire grade level."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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