Rochester high school teacher named MN Teacher of the Year

A high school English language and ethnic studies teacher from Rochester was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year for 2021 on Wednesday.

Natalia Benjamin is the first Latino educator to win the award, made by Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union.

A woman smiles for a photo.
Natalia Benjamin, a high school English language and ethnic studies teacher at Century High School in the Rochester school district, is the 2021 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
Courtesy of Education Minnesota

Benjamin has been at the district since 2013, where she started as a substitute teacher and paraprofessional before going on to teach English language at Century High School. She's the first from her district to win the award.

Benjamin was born and raised in Guatemala, where she grew up speaking, reading and writing French — in addition to her native Spanish — while attending a French school in Guatemala City. She learned English in middle school and high school and later went on to attend Brigham Young University in Utah, where she earned a bachelor's degree in molecular biology and a master's degree in language acquisition and teaching.

Benjamin said her exposure to multiple languages helped her understand how children acquire language.

"My personal experiences with languages created a passion and appreciation for multiple languages and cultures. Many of my students are navigating new cultures and places," she wrote in an essay to the program's selection committee. "I hope that I can be a small part of their journey in succeeding as they follow their dreams."

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.