Teachers of the Year ‘humbled and honored’
Karen Dalager and Nicolle Johnston have been named the 2017-18 Minneota Teachers of the Year for elementary and high school, respectively.
Dalager, a native of Milroy, has been teaching Kindergarten for the past five years at Minneota. Johnston is a native of Marshall.
She is in her eighth year as a Special Education instructor. Dalager and Johnston are now candidates for the 54th annual Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award, along with 130 other private and public school candidates throughout the state.
A selection committee of 25 education, business and government leaders will select the semifinalist and finalists before awarding the State Teacher of the Year at a banquet in May.
“I was so surprised and honored to receive the nomination,” said Dalager. “I was checking my mail at school on my lunch break and there was an envelope with a return address of Teacher of the Year. I teared up reading the letter and the kind words from the nomination.”
Johnston also received a similar letter in the mail revealing that she had been nominated for State Teacher of the Year. “I was humbled and surprised,” she said. “I’ve worked with so many teachers that I view as exceptional and have contributed to the teacher I am today.”
“I was humbled and surprised,” she said.
“I’ve worked with so many teachers that I view as exceptional and have contributed to the teacher I am today.”
When asked what makes them a good teacher, they each deflected credit to the students and other staff members. “I think my strong skill is building the relationship with the kids and making sure they all know that I care about them as a person,” said Dalager.
“Children love to make adults happy and work so hard for someone they know cares about them and believe in them. And we have an awesome staff that cares so much about each and every child.”
“It is with great confidence and a full heart that I am able to say that I am so successful only because of the students, parents and teachers I work with,” said Johnston.
“I have learned from all of them. It is their knowledge and strengths that have shaped who I am and how I teach.”
Students motivate Dalager
Dalager graduated from Tracy Area High School in 1998 and from Southwest Minnesota State University in 2001 with a degree in Early Childhood Education and a minor in Business Administration.
Dalager and her husband, Mike, who is employed at Borch’s Sporting Goods in Marshall, have three sons; Ryan, Adam and Owen. They currently live in Minneota.
She has worked in the Minneota Public School District since 2010; the first year with the ECFE program and then as a preschool teacher.
“I have loved spending time with young children since I can remember,” she said. “My original aspiration after graduating high school was to own and operate my own Child Care and Preschool Center.”
Dalager eventually operated an “in-home” child daycare in Marshall.
“I used my Education degree to work with preschool age children in my daycare to help them get ready for kindergarten,” she said.
“I loved watching them grow and learn.” “I soon accepted the preschool teaching position and loved it. I missed seeing the same kids on a daily basis (preschool was two days a week at that time), so I was super excited when my current Kindergarten position became available.”
Dalager feels the best part of her job is building relationships with the students she works with every day. “I consider it an honor that parents entrust their children to our school and my classroom,” she noted.
“It is amazing to see the change that happens in each child throughout the year.”
“This includes so many things, such as academics, social maturity, and physical growth. I love being a part of so many firsts for the kindergarten kids; learning to read, making new friends, learning math skills, losing that first tooth and so much more.”
Being a school teacher includes a myriad of memories from the many different personalities they encounter each day.
“There are so many stories that I remember, but the best part is when kids from previous years stop by my classroom to say ‘hi’ or give a high five or hug,” said Dalager.
“I love that in our school we can get to know so many of the kids as individuals and keep in touch even after they leave our classroom.” Elementary Principal Jen Mahan-Deitte feels Minneota is fortunate to have instructors such as Dalager.
“She is a terrific example of the type of educator we want teaching here at Minneota Public Schools,” said Mahan-Deitte. “She arrives every day excited and motivated to teach – with a smile on her face.”
“She works diligently to provide students with the best possible learning experience using music, play, drama, simulations, and putting students into the role of teacher.”
“The best character traits that I could use to describe Karen would be respectful, humorous, engaging, resourceful, and driven. She understands the importance of working with our youngest students and gives all 22 of them her undivided attention.”
Mom influenced Johnston
Johnston grew up in Marshall and graduated there in 1999. She then went on to college at Augustana University in Sioux Falls and graduated with a Special Education Degree in 2003.
She started her teaching career at Lakeview Elementary in Cottonwood.
After three years there, she came to Minneota and is now in her fourth year here.
“I have had many people in my life that helped guide me in the direction of become a teacher,” Johnston said. “To begin with, my mother (Mary Noyes) is a Language Arts teacher and is still teaching at Minneota after 29 years.
She instilled in me the importance of helping others and being kind to all. Growing up, I saw the impact she had on students and it has encouraged me to keep striving to make a difference in the lives of my students.” Johnston’s husband Chad teaches Health and Physical Education at Minneota and is the varsity football and girls’ basketball coach.
They have three sons; Easton, Gage and Brooks. Johnston currently teaches Math, Reading, Writing and Behavioral Skills to students primarily in grades 6, 7 and 8.
“I also have the privilege of team teaching Language Arts with Heather Anderson and Math 8 with Al Panka,” she said.
“Both teachers have shared their expertise with me which has expanded the scope of my teaching. In turn, we are better able to meet the needs of students with exceptionalities in the regular classroom alongside their peers. It’s a win-win.”
Johnston feels that being a special education teacher brings something new each day. “Working with students is the best part of teaching,” she said.
“I get this amazing opportunity to make each day count and, if I am lucky, get to change another person’s life just by showing them that I care.”
“Each day is another chance to tell a child that they matter. I am blessed to watch my students face challenges with determination and heart. Not one student in my classroom views themselves as a student with a disability. That word does not exist in my classroom. We each have unique needs and strengths.”
Administrators also notice the hard work Johnston puts in each day to make her students feel important. “Mrs. Johnston goes way above and beyond for her students,” said High School Principal Jeremy Frie.
“She has taught her students the value in giving by leading fundraising efforts for local charities and even led a kindness project where students made and sent cards to children who were hospitalized.”
“Mrs. Johnston brings passion to her profession, has high expectations for herself and her students, and is masterful at making meaningful connections. Students in Nicolle Johnston’s class know that they are going to work hard and they know they’re going to be held to high expectations.”
In turn, the students have provided a lifetime of memories for Johnston. “I think every day I have at least one cute, funny or heart-warming story,” she told.
“Sometimes I write the moments down. When students write me notes, I keep them. I have been doing this for the last five years. I have a couple of stories that I believe will be permanently etched in my mind.”