Five-year-old Julian Romo Gonzalez, his perfectly combed hair peeking out above the podium, leaned into the microphone and said five words - “You’re the best teacher ever” - that set the perfect tone of gratitude for Tuesday’s breakfast ceremony honoring the 2018 Lincoln Public Schools Thank You Teacher award winners.
Gonzalez was talking to Andrea Woita, his teacher at Kooser Elementary School who won the pre-school to grade two category. The five winning teachers, their students, family members and fellow educators gathered at the Governor’s Mansion for this year’s event, where they heard inspiring stories of the impact that a great teacher can have on a student’s life.
Lauren Cochran, Gonzalez’s mom, read her son’s letter nominating Woita, including the following excerpt: “You can see the passion she has for her job and all her little friends every day by their little smiling faces…It’s a great feeling knowing that when I drop him off at school every day, he is in the care of someone that is patient, kind, loving, goofy, exciting and just happy.”
Woita responded in kind: “I know that teaching kindergarten doesn’t sound fun to all people but I know without a doubt that I have one of the best jobs in the whole world. Every day I am greeted with hugs, high fives and smiles and I also get to watch my students become better readers, writers and mathematicians - but most of all, good citizens who are kind to others and accepting of all who enter our classroom.”
Anycia DuBray-Bivens, now a fourth-grader at Belmont Elementary School, nominated Tim Oehring, her previous teacher at Saratoga Elementary School and the winner of the grades three to five category. Her nomination letter, which she read Tuesday, included the following: “Mr. O is the best teacher ever. He makes kids think that school is fun. He helped me to know that I am smart…He is my hero, he’s my Batman, he’s my super teacher.”
Oehring thanked his colleagues, parents and wife, then turned to DuBray-Bivens and said, “It’s been an absolute joy to watch you grow and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.”
Lincoln High English teacher Deborah McGinn won this year’s high school category. Her nominating student, freshman Samantha Roblyer, said McGinn gave her the confidence to “break out of the shell” she had built around herself as a person who stutters - even pushing her to join the school’s slam poetry team. “She has encouraged me to overcome the obstacle put in front of me as a result of my speech, she’s introduced me to new opportunities, and she’s also taught me the importance of caring about the world and those around you.”
McGinn responded, “I want you to know that I respect you as a young woman who is strong...and a young woman who truly knows her heart. You are so honest and it is so easy to work with you.”
This year’s middle school winner, science teacher Molly Hoffman from Irving, was nominated by former student Thea Lahey, now a student at Lincoln High. “I learned to love science in your class, and you gave me the chance to exceed my own expectations of how academically inclined I was,” Lahey said. “You sparked an interest of science in me, and showed me that a strong woman can be passionate about science and succeed.”
Hoffman said she will cherish Lahey’s letter. “It will literally carry me to the end of my career. It will be a constant reminder that my service as an educator goes far beyond this community - it will extend worldwide because of students like you who are kind, good at heart, intelligent and set goals. You will go far and do great things and as a result I get to go with you on your journey.”
Lynn White, a former counselor at Lakeview Elementary School, won this year’s category for retired teachers. The entire staff of Lakeview nominated White and several of her former colleagues were on hand Tuesday morning. Samantha Wessels, a special education resource teacher at Lakeview, talked about the “heart work” done by White. “She had the special ability to make everyone feel like they were the most important person in the room and was eager to help in any way she could.”
White thanked the Lakeview staff and everyone else she worked alongside during her 38-year teaching career. “It’s not too many who can look back...and say they loved every minute - waking up, going to work and being a part of a community. I accept this not only for myself but all of my colleagues that I have had the joy of working with.”
There were more than 550 entries for this year’s awards, which are sponsored by Lincoln Public Schools and KFOR/KFRX radio.
LPS Superintendent Steve Joel told Tuesday’s audience that the winning nominations are a powerful reminder “that teaching is the gateway to everything that happens with young people’s lives.”
“These letters are powerful, powerful examples of what’s happening in our schools every single day.”Here are the highlights from when the teachers found out they were nominated and won:
Published: March 6, 2018, Updated: March 7, 2018