Nelson, Higgins named Teachers of the Year
Michelle Higgins, math teacher at Fairfield High School, and Tena Nelson, talented and gifted and language arts teacher at Fairfield Middle School, were named 2014 Teachers of the Year at the school district’s annual staff appreciation breakfast Wednesday.
Two Fairfield couples were recognized as Friends of Education, Michael and Michele Greiner, and Terry and Chrystal Winn.
Both teachers were surprised and humbled.
“I’m honored to receive the teacher of the year award,” Higgins said. “I felt humbled to be recognized.
“It’s a privilege to teach in this community and have some sort of influence on our students. Teaching is a way of ‘paying it forward,’ where we can positively affect the lives of our students. I know my own four children having been inspired by great teachers in our district,” said Higgins.
“I feel so incredibly honored and humbled,” said Nelson. “I was so happy for Michelle, when she was announced as Teacher of the Year, so I didn’t suspect a thing when Superintendent Art Sathoff called me up for my birthday — yes, Wednesday actually was my birthday. I was shocked that they picked two teachers. I was shaking like a leaf — but so happy.”
Higgins said her daughter flew back Tuesday night from college in Philadelphia to be present Wednesday morning.
“She had to leave after the awards breakfast to return to Philadelphia to finish her final exams,” she said. “My whole family was there — my husband, all four children, my parents, my father-in-law and my sister and her family. It meant so much to me for all of them to be there.”
Higgins began teaching high school mathematics 25 years ago in Naples, Florida.
“I am originally from Fairfield and I’m a graduate of FHS,” she said. “My husband and I moved back here in 2000 to raise our children in the Midwest around family. I have taught at FHS since the fall of 2000.
“I love teaching even more now than when I started,” she said. “Mathematics has always intrigued me with its usefulness and practicality. However, my interactions with students and helping them achieve their goals are the real reason I love teaching.”
She teaches advanced placement calculus, pre-calculus and practical math.
She graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics education.
Higgins earned a Master of Arts degree in education in 2008 from Morningside College. She earned National Board Certification in November of 2013.
Nelson is in her 16th year teaching at the middle school. She also is the FMS drama coach, directing the annual drama production and supervising the FMS drama club.
“I taught grades sixth through eighth grades science and seventh grade reading and language arts before teaching GOAL [talented and gifted] classes,” said Nelson. “I taught kindergarten in Texas for two years prior to moving back to Fairfield.”
Nelson graduated with honors in 1994 from the University of South Dakota, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education. She is Nationally Board Certified in Early Adolescence English/Language Arts since 2007 and has endorsements in kindergarten through eighth grades reading, kindergarten through sixth grades elementary classroom, sixth through eighth grades generalist and kindergarten through 12th grade talented and gifted.
“This morning was such a wonderful blur, I was overwhelmed,” said Nelson. “All teachers bring different gifts to the classroom and it takes all of us to reach all students. I’m blessed to work with such a great administration and such wonderful colleagues. We’re all a team, helping all kids.”
Nelson said she is inspired to teach by her students.
“I love the kids, I love my job,” she said. “Every day is different, and every day is inspiring. I don’t think of teaching as what I do — I think of it as who I am. My job chose me, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Fairfield Community Education Association sponsors the Friend of Education awards. The award recognizes an individual, organization or group whose leadership, acts or support have significantly benefited Fairfield community schools’ education, employees, and/or students.
The middle school sixth-grade team nominated the Winns for the family’s support of the sixth-grade annual science field day.
The nomination says the Winns invite the entire sixth grade class to tour the quarry and land during science field day each year. The Winn family shuts down business to the public and loses income for the entire day to ensure utmost safety and undivided attention for students. They have adjusted their insurance policy to cover the visitors each year. Terry Winn is tour guide for each of the four busloads of students. Each tour takes an hour and a half. Students get hands-on learning by seeing what happens at the quarry. Students take a bus ride down into the bottom of the pit where enormous trucks, earth moving machines and rock crushing equipment are busy at work.
“At the end, students are brought to the Winn quarry office and are greeted by Mrs. Winn, their friendly dogs, and a truckload of treats and special prizes for every student,” nominators wrote. “They make us feel so welcome. This year the Winns handed out a geode for each student.
“Students get to see and touch the huge equipment up close. The entire class gets to stand on the truck scale and see how much it weighs. Going to the quarry is definitely the highlight of our sixth-grade science field day, thanks to the Terry Winn family.”
The Greiners’ nominations outlined many activities and programs the couple supports. They were instrumental in bringing motivational speaker Layman Hicks to Fairfield High School and work with the All-State band program as Fairfield Band Aides members.
Michele Greiner was chairwoman of the Chocolate Sunday fundraiser for the fine arts programs.
She serves as co-chair of FHS’s recently organized Friends of FBLA group, and for the last two years was spokeswoman and organization advocate leading pasta night, mentor night and entrepreneur night with FBLA. She has chaperoned for both the state and national leadership conferences for the last two years, has been students’ cheerleader, mentor and a woman of high standards promoting excellence, wrote nominators.
“I cannot thoroughly describe what a great asset Michele is to the high school FBLA program,” said one letter. “She is our avid spokeswoman and organization advocate. It doesn’t matter what our projects are – she leads.”
The Greiners volunteered to take many loads, at least eight costume changes for a cast of nearly 50, of laundry to a coin-operated laundry, and nearly five hours later, returned with skirts, dress, blouses, shirts and more washed, folded, and sorted and ready for storage, nominators said.
“I would like to take this brief moment to express the support the Greiners have given to the speech team this year,” reads another letter. “As they have in years past, they continued to financially support our organization. This year a donation they made helped support the purchase of a new mobile sound system.
“They hosted a speech team togetherness meal, paying for everything — food, drinks and service for more than 100 people. It was beyond generous and a great way for them to celebrate the whole team and give appreciation.
“The Greiners encourage students, teachers and coaches in a number of ways. Both have been active supporters of many FCSD activities.
“Neither Mike nor Michele do these things for attention or accolades, they are simply generous and kind people who go out of their way to assist our students and fortify and cheer the adults who work with them.”