At the end of the school day on March 12, peers and supervisors gathered inside the cafeteria of Dickinson Middle school. The occasion was to award sixth grade teacher Carla Schaeffer with the Dickinson Public School Teacher of the Year award.
Winning the Dickinson Public School Teacher of the Year award allows Schaeffer to enter into the State and National Teacher of the Year Program, which honors the contribution of teachers around the United States. The program is the longest running award that puts teaching of excellence in focus. However, for Schaeffer it has never been about the recognition.
“The one thing about the profession of education is you don't do it for awards or honor. You do it for the kids,” Schaeffer said. “You come here every day and you want to make the kids smarter; you want to make them more confident in themselves.”
The nomination was made by her peers, which stated:
“Schaeffer has served on building/district level committees throughout her entire career. She makes learning a priority for herself as a professional and for her students. Every year she makes a point to build strong relationships with every one of her students including those that often put up the strongest barriers. She makes every student feel welcome and confident in her classroom while holding them accountable for their learning and their behavior. These characteristics are evident every single day. It's real. (Schaeffer) has been an excellent leader on our team and in our school. She consistently advocates for what is best for our students. She speaks up for others and steps up to the plate when she sees anyone needs help. She understands the importance of developing relationships with her students as a foundation for their success, and is a natural at doing just that.”
As modest as Schaefer is of receiving the award, she does hope to hold herself to the standards of her peers. She commended the collaborative culture she has with her fellow teachers.
“When people believe in you, you have to be appreciative, humbled and hope you can live up to what they believe in you… because I get to work at this school. I get to push myself professionally and come up with new and exciting ways for kids to learn content,” Schaeffer said. “What is so wonderful about working here is all of our sixth grade rooms are all together. We are all in one hallway ... We get together at least twice a month and check in with each other.”
Schaeffer graduated at Dickinson High School and then attended college in Moorehead, Minn. She originally wanted a career in sport broadcasting but soon found a love of teaching that has guided her career for the past 29 years.
Schaeffer comes from a family of teachers. Her father was a high school math teacher and a basketball coach. Her mother, who has since passed away, was a fourth grade teacher up until 2007. Schaeffer said that her mother was a huge influence in her life.
“I always call it the lightbulb moment when you are teaching something... You have these kids who (when they) first start, they are falling apart. They are getting frustrated and they are getting down on themselves but you keep plugging along and all of a sudden, you see that lightbulb go off above their head and their eyes light up and they are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I get this now.’ That is what you teach for — that lightbulb moment,” she said.
Schaeffer’s pillars of philosophy as an educator is that every kid has value and that it's important they recognize they are valued and cared for.
“It's not about an individual teacher, it's about the collective and what we all do together to make kids successful,” she noted.