This summer, BP Exploration Alaska chose five teachers for its Teachers of Excellence for the second semester of the last school year. The program honors Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers for their expertise. The five are:
Karen Bornheimer, kindergarten to third grade, Susan B. English School in Seldovia
Bornheimer's class endorsed her award. Considering it was only her third year teaching, that is a high honor. She came to teaching from a background as a classroom aide and interpreter for special needs children.
"She quickly established structure and consistent expectations for her students. She is practical, realistic and devoted to education and teaching, and a tremendous asset to our school," said principal Steve Jones.
Bornheimer describes her classroom as not hers, but the children's.
"They have a degree of ownership of the physical space as well as the decisions regarding our curriculum. My students have developed the skills and attitudes that allow them to work hard and creatively to solve their own problems. I have created a climate where children feel successful and powerful."
Dave Knudsen, third grade, Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai
Knudsen's warm nature effects his students and the school's hardworking administrative staff. He developed a unique but appreciated practice: Each Friday, he takes his class to the office, and they give the office staff "Friday hugs." This is something the office staff and children look forward to. It's clear he has started a tradition that both children and school staff would like to continue.
Knudsen's talent as an educator, the parent of a former student writes, helped build the foundation for one young woman's academic career.
"We had just moved back to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia due to the Gulf War and my daughter was having difficulty adjusting. Dave made her feel immediately welcome and a special part of the class. He encouraged her to do her best and recognized that she was a very bright student," they said.
Today, that same young woman is an honors pre-medicine college student.
Vern Kornstad, seventh-grade language arts, Nikiski Middle-Senior High School
Kornstad wrote that "The most important factor in motivating students to learn is to be a learner myself. One example is (played out daily) with technology. Students have an expertise with computers that I don't. I try to express my appreciation for their help. I strive to create a community of learners."
Rural Alaska parents often worry about how their child will adjust when put into a classroom with older children. Part of Kornstad's success as a teacher and ability to connect with his students stems from his sense of humor.
"I am among the first teachers to have contact with students entering our school from elementary school. This is an anxious time for both students and parents. My first goal is to assure parents that I care about their child," he said.
"All of the great planning and standards won't inspire my seventh-graders if I'm a grouch. I exhibit a sense of humor regularly. Learning is fun. I get more from my students with a laugh than by flexing my authority. And then when I use my authority as 'The Teacher,' it's more effective."
Pat Nolden, ninth- to 12th-grade science, Soldotna High School
Nolden was recognized be-cause he believes in giving students options in how they learn and how they are assessed. He is an exceptional teacher because of his commitment to children. He does an outstanding job building a science program and motivating students to excel.
Of his classroom Nolden wrote, "My classroom is 'a room of their own.' This gives them the latitude to show a bit of individuality and, at the same time, exhibit a sense of responsibility and control for what occurs in this setting."
Nolden also employs varied strategies to connect with parents.
"Our homework hot line and e-mailing grades to parents every three weeks have proven to be instrumental to provide the necessary interventions for their child to be successful," he said.
Terri Zopf-Schoessler, ninth- to 12th-grade English and drama, Skyview High School in Soldotna
Zopf-Schoessler's philosophy for establishing rapport with her students' families is pragmatic and apparently effective.
"In a small town, teachers establish relationships with their students' families regardless of their intentions. Since cooperative relations are the most productive, the two keys are remembering that I am, to a large extent, a public figure and to conduct myself accordingly. Just as there are teachable moments in the classroom, there are one-time-only chances to talk to parents about their child's progress in many unusual places. I have conducted several informal conferences in the grocery store check-out line, at soccer and even while waiting in line for the ladies' room," she said.
After discovering several of her students could not read, she took the unexpected task of teaching juniors to read.
"Two years ago," she wrote," I was shocked to discover that some of my juniors could not discuss the novel we were working on because they couldn't read it! ... Since then, I know I've learned far more than my students. I've learned about respect for them, for the difficult and rewarding process of learning to read and for the amazing ways that they have learned to compensate for a problem that is, most often, not their fault."
Nominations are open for the first semester of the 2001-02 school year. For nomination forms, contact your school or go online at www.bp.com/alaska /teachers. The deadline is Dec. 3.
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