Being named among the best at your job by a majority of your coworkers is an accolade anyone can appreciate. For Milaca Elementary School teacher Donelle Welch and Milaca High School teacher Erik Sivertson, the honor of being named teachers of the year was theirs for 2011-2012.
“It was not even on my radar,” Welch said of the nomination. “I’ve had a wonderful career here at Milaca — families, coworkers, administration, the school board — everyone has been so supportive.”
After learning of the award, streamers, confetti and decorations of congratulations adorned her room through the efforts of her first-grade class and fellow teachers.
“It was a total surprise,” she said. “It was very, very humbling to be voted on by your peers. My class was so excited. The kids were so excited.”
Welch began her teaching career in Milaca in 1983 at the Milaca Nursery Preschool. It was there she established a strong professional relationship with Lorraine Veurink, who became a mentor to the young teacher.
“I really believe anything I am today is because of her,” Welch said.
She believes providing that mentor role to young, new educators is key to developing skills teachers need to be effective in the classroom. And she carried what she learned from Veurink into her position as the only teacher providing birth to age 5 special education services from 1985-1995.
“Many, many people are doing that now, the program has grown so much,” Welch said.
After that decade, Welch moved into a third grade classroom where she taught for three years.
“Then I had this urge to teach learning readers,” she said.
Reading and literacy is a passion of hers and she is going on her third year of showing first-graders the wonders of the written word. And during the course of her nearly 30 year career in Milaca, Welch is now teaching children of her former students.
“It’s all I ever wanted to be,” she said of teaching.
“I was surprised. I didn’t know what to say, so I thanked everybody,” Sivertson said of his teacher of the year award. “There’s just a lot of good teachers here, so you never expect that it will be you.”
As the high school science and physics teacher, Sivertson is no stranger to an experiment. Which makes sense in light of his own path to teaching.
“I went to college thinking I would major in physics,” he said. “And at the end of my second year, and into my third year, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. So I went into teaching for all the wrong reasons — I didn’t want to go to grad school so I started taking education courses.”
He began teaching in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area tutoring for a company involved in adult basic education. He graduated in 1996 and earned his teaching license in 1997. Two years later, his first interview for a teaching position landed him a classroom at Milaca High School.
“And I think I was their second choice. I still give them a hard time about that,” he said laughing. “It worked out well, because I love it. I still get to do something with science and experiment.”
That passion for science came partly from parents who pursued careers in the field. His father was a doctor, and after his death when Sivertson was just 7 years old, his mother studied to become a nurse. Science became a bridge to his roots.
Another P.H.D. held the young Sivertson’s fascination as well — the venerable Doctor Who.
“It was always on late at night and I liked the physical sciences,” he said. “I’m a big Sci-fi fan. I also had a really, really great physics teacher in high school, Boyd Huselid.”
For the full story, see the Thursday, June 14 print edition of the Times.