Minnesota teachers share stories of the teachers who energized them

We asked teachers from around Minnesota about who inspired them.
We asked teachers from around Minnesota to share which teacher inspired them.
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Every teacher started as a student. And, like every student, they found teachers who inspired them.

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week this week, MPR News asked some of Minnesota's best teachers about the teachers who inspired them. Here's what they said.

Kelly Holstine, English teacher at Tokata Learning Center in Shakopee, 2018 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Kelly Holstine
Kelly Holstine, English teacher at Tokata Learning Center in Shakopee.
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Mrs. Paule Thiede was my fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Fairmont, Minn.

Mrs. Thiede made me feel like I mattered, and to this sensitive tomboy, that meant everything. She cared about my feelings, my thoughts and my ideas. Mrs. Thiede not only made me feel intelligent, she made me feel loved.

My experience with Mrs. Thiede inspired my personal teaching philosophy: every student matters.

Thank you, Mrs. Thiede, for changing my life.

Scott Glew, social studies, Salk Middle School, Elk River

Scott Glew
Scott Glew, Social Studies teacher at Salk Middle School in Elk River.
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Scott Miller was my social studies teacher in both ninth and 12th grade at Aitkin High School. I credit the entire social studies department at AHS with inspiring me to become a social studies teacher, but I think having Mr. Miller in ninth grade piqued my initial interest and then again as a senior reinforced it at a pivotal point in my life.

He was an incredibly supportive and caring teacher who also pushed me outside of my comfort zone. What I most appreciated was how he challenged me, both to do my best work and to consider perspectives that were different than my own.

This stayed with me through college and his lessons have continued to influence my growth today, both as an educator and a citizen.

Alyssa Larsen, social studies, Waconia High School

Alyssa Larsen
Alyssa Larsen, Social Studies teacher at Salk Middle School in Elk River.
Courtesy Photo

From an early age, my twin sister Brittany and I wanted to be teachers. However, it wasn't until we were in Cassie Bornetun's seventh-grade U.S. history class that we realized our passion for teaching social studies.

Mrs. Bornetun, who currently teaches in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, had the unique ability to make events that happened hundreds of years ago seem like they occurred yesterday.

I have vivid memories of us singing about "goober peas" and dancing around her classroom in order to learn about life during the American Civil War. Mrs. Bornetun taught my sister and me a valuable lesson, teaching history is not about memorizing names and dates, but rather seeing events from a wide range of perspectives and recognizing patterns that recur throughout centuries.

While I try to emulate her energy and creativity in my lessons, what stands out even more was the dedication Mrs. Bornetun had for making connections with her students. When I was in seventh grade, my family was going through some difficulties and Mrs. Bornetun would often give up her time after school to help Brittany and I make sense of the challenges our family was facing.

Now, 17 years later, standing daily in front of my own groups of students, I try to remember the lessons I learned about teaching from Mrs. Bornetun. She always recognized that each of her students had their own challenges and difficulties, and sometimes needed, like I did, someone to share them with. I hope to have the same impact on my students that Mrs. Bornetun had on me.

Tom Rademacher, language arts, St. Anthony Middle School, 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Tom Rademacher
Tom Rademacher, English teacher and author in Minneapolis.
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Though I've had a lot of brilliant K-12 teachers that really helped shape me (my fifth-grade teacher Ms. Shaefer got me into reading, my Social Studies teacher in High School got me really thinking, and my Art teacher introduced me to creating), the most important and inspiring teacher of my life was someone I met as a freshman at the University of Minnesota.

I was lucky enough to land myself in Michael Dennis Browne's Intro to Poetry class. Over the next four years, I signed up for as many classes as I could with him, including some summer intensives, and would visit his office hours in years our schedules didn't connect.

He is a brilliant man, a beautiful and powerful writer, and he convinced me there was no more important thing I could do in the world than write well and honestly. More than that though, he showed me what an inspired, empathetic teacher could do.

Though he often had more years of serious writing behind him than everyone else in the room combined, his classes were focused on his students, and I remember fondly how he would close his eyes to listen to the aggressively mediocre poetry of my college years, smiling at my attempt, and offering thoughtful feedback as if it really really mattered that I got that poem right. Nearly everything I am as a teacher and a writer I owe to that man.

Shaylee McComb, Music teacher at Weaver Elementary School, Maplewood

Shaylee McComb
Shaylee McComb, Music teacher at Weaver Elementary School in Maplewood.
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One teacher that made a lasting impact on my life was Melissa Hanson, my high school choir director. She always believed in me and gave me many opportunities to lead.

Ms. Hanson shared her life and the girls (and guys) in choir ate up her stories about dates that she went on or lessons she had learned about past relationships. We lived vicariously through her. She made the time to listen to us and we always wanted to listen to her.

She went out of her way, above and beyond, for her students. Ms. Hanson made choir and musical rehearsals the most magical part of my day. She made music like oxygen for me and I always wanted more of it.

Music fed her soul and brought her real joy and I wanted that life. I knew in high school that I was going to become a music teacher. We developed a friendship that lasted beyond the high school walls and I eventually sang at her wedding a few years after graduating. I will forever remember her laugh, blonde hair, fair skin, all black outfits, and flashy glasses.

Amy Hewett-Olatunde, English language learning, LEAP High School, St. Paul, 2015 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Amy Marie Hewett-Olatunde
Amy Marie Hewett-Olatunde, ELL teacher at LEAP High School in St. Paul.
Courtesy Photo

She was my first teacher in school and my forever teacher at home and in life. Her name was Mary Louise (Halvorson) Hewett and she was my mother and a teacher for 35 years.

She was the kind of teacher whose students would come back and visit her when they were grown with their own children. She loved her students passionately, she saw the light in each child and helped it shine, and she worked hard every single day on a pittance of pay.

"Give them roots to grow; give them wings to fly." This is what she always told me. She was a teacher unlike any teacher I have ever seen to this day. Starting off her career teaching on Sibley in St. Paul back in the 60s, she later found herself in southern Manitoba, Canada, teaching 3- and 4-year-olds.

As I grew older, I began helping her in school when I came home from college on breaks. It was then that I realized how my mother was born to teach. It was her calling. And now today, long after she is gone, I celebrate my 20th year of teaching, 19 of which I have called my home at LEAP High School in St. Paul.

I may be leaving this school, but like my mother, I hope the love I have for my students/my children is never forgotten. I hope they carry it with them throughout their lives.

We want to hear from you. What teacher inspired you? Share a short story here.

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