Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 18, 2018

Shawn Klehm Teacher of Year

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | May 22, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Shawn Klehm, center, was named the 2018 Teacher of the Year Monday during the Educators Appreciation Breakfast. Her family consists of husband Cory, back right, a fellow teacher at Fairfield Middle School, and three children: eighth-grader Khai, front left, high school junior Reese, back left, and Corynn, who just completed her first year of college at Iowa State University.

Fairfield Middle School teacher Shawn Klehm has been named the 2018 Teacher of the Year.

Klehm received the honor during the Educators Appreciation Breakfast Monday in the middle school. Klehm teaches special education to sixth-graders.


And the winner is ...

Schools superintendent Laurie Noll read the accomplishments of this year’s Teacher of the Year without revealing their identity. The more she read, the more the crowd zeroed in on Klehm as the mystery person.

“The 2018 recipient encourages students and builds their level of confidence,” Noll said. “A trademark of this teacher is to reflect on the past day and start each day new with a smile. This teacher has an outstanding attitude that is brought to the classroom daily.”

Noll described the winner as someone who believes all students can learn. Student testimonials praised her emphasis on letting each child learn without the fear of being picked on. She even supplied clothing and toiletries to students who didn’t have them.

Eventually, the cat got out of the bag, and the teachers in attendance knew there was only one person Noll could be describing.

“Shawn has had difficult conversations with parents throughout her career, but she does it very well,” said Noll, her voice breaking with emotion.

Finally, Noll invited Klehm to join her at the front of the room. The crowd gave Klehm a standing ovation.

Klehm, equally overcome with emotion, took the microphone and uttered through tears, “I suppose I have to say something.”

“For me, every day is a new day, and I tell my students that because I love my job. I love every kid I’ve ever touched, whether it was giving them a hug or a squeeze or words of encouragement,” Klehm said.

Klehm told the crowd of fellow educators that she was drawn to teach special education because of her own experience in the program as a sixth-grader needing help with math. She hopes that she can pass onto her students the same love of learning she had.

“I love being here. I love school,” she said. “Sometimes when I say that to my students, they look at me like I”m crazy. They think, ‘How can you love school? I want to get out of here.’ Well, I got out of school, but I knew I needed to come back, because I wanted to inspire those kids just like my teachers inspired me.”



Klehm grew up in Clarion, a town about an hour’s drive north of Ames. In her youth, she contemplated becoming a chiropractor.

“I realized I couldn’t stand the popping and cracking,” she recalled.

She took a different career route, obtaining a secondary teaching degree from Westmar University in May of 1996, with an emphasis in psychology and sociology. Later, she decided that her true passion lay in teaching young children, particularly kids having a hard time in school, like she had in math.

Klehm received an endorsement in multicategorical resource programming from Morningside University in 1998, and earned a master’s degree as a Level I strategist from the same school in 2004.

She and her husband Cory moved to Fairfield in 1996 after Cory got a job teaching fourth grade here. Shawn became a teacher’s associate, and later took a fulltime position in neighboring Mt. Pleasant where she taught behavior disordered kids.

A few years later in 2001, a middle school teacher retired, creating an open spot for Klehm, which she took.

“I hated driving to Mt. Pleasant every day, and I wanted to be in the town where my children were,” she said.


Day-to-day work

Klehm is a co-teacher, meaning she leads a class with another teacher. She’s also in charge of focused groups of kids who need supplemental instruction in reading, math and language arts.

“We work on reading skills every day, and math every other day,” she said. “We’re trying to close the gap and get them back to grade level.”

Parents are an important piece of the educational puzzle. Klehm talks to them about how to address problems at home that carry over into school, such as taking appropriate medications and holding students accountable for bad behavior.

“I do check-and-connects with some students, those who need extra motivation to improve their attendance, grades or well-being,” she said.

In her 20 years of teaching, Klehm has learned the value of establishing mutual trust and respect with her students.

“When I started, my attitude was, ‘You need to do what I’m asking because I’m in charge,’” she said. “I’ve found that when you foster a relationship with those kids, they respect you and you respect them. I go to bat for them, and they hold up their end of the bargain. I want them to feel smart and capable, and that they have a champion in their corner.”



A few people stand out as sources of inspiration for Klehm, such as former special ed teacher in the district Eileen Mueller. A former co-teacher, Cara Perkins, was a wonderful colleague who Klehm was sad to see retire.

“My co-teacher Judy Strieker is also great. It seems like we were separated at birth,” Klehm said. “I’m very blessed to be at the middle school. We like to say that we’re an Oreo because the best stuff is in the middle.”



Shawn and Cory have three children: daughter Corynn, who just finished her first year at Iowa State University; son Reese, a junior at FHS; and Khai, an eighth-grader at FMS. Despite having taught at FMS for 17 years, Klehm never had occasion to teach her children. In retrospect, she wish she had.

“I think it would have been fine,” she said. “My husband and I expect a lot out of them.”

The Klehm family grows copious amounts of produce to sell at the farmers’ market every year, and the children do their part.

“They are very hardworking. That’s something my husband and I wanted to instill in them,” she said. “Our goal was to raise well-rounded children, to use your manners such as saying ‘please,’ and ‘thank you,’ and looking people in the eye.”

Shawn and Cory are about to celebrate 23 years of marriage. She said it has been a dream to work in the same building as her spouse, who teaches sixth-grade science

“He is my best friend, and I love spending time with him,” Shawn said. “He holds me to a high standard and I hold him to a high standard. We eat lunch together every day, and talk about how we can be better for our students. I chose a great partner.”



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