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Teacher of the year

The Wisconsin PTA convention earned a new name this year. "It's going to be the Four Corners show," said Ellen Chicka, PTA president for Four Corners Elementary School. The school garnered six awards, which will be presented during the convention...

Teacher of the Year
Tami Nelson, a second-grade teacher at Four Corners Elementary School, helps Blake Bachand, 7, write a story problem using the number 500 during class Wednesday. Nelson, a teacher with a passion for math and a talent for making learning fun, will receive the Wisconsin PTA's 2010 Teacher of the Year Award Saturday during their annual convention. In addition, four students from the school will be recognized for winning a statewide art competition. (Maria Lockwood)

The Wisconsin PTA convention earned a new name this year.

"It's going to be the Four Corners show," said Ellen Chicka, PTA president for Four Corners Elementary School. The school garnered six awards, which will be presented during the convention Saturday in La Crosse.

Tami Nelson, a second grade teacher at Four Corners, was chosen 2010 Teacher of the Year in the elementary division. Four students from the school are winners in the annual Reflections art contest. Four Corners also nabbed the Hale & Healthy Award for bringing a University of Minnesota Duluth production of "Pirates of the Carrot Bean" to the school.

"We have some talented students at our school," Chicka said, and great teachers.

Four Corners Principal Patti Lindelof said the PTA deserves credit, too, for taking the initiative to apply for the awards.

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"Ellen has helped to evolve our PTA greatly through her three years of leadership," Lindelof said.

Both women nominated Nelson for the teacher of the year award.

"She is such a team player," Lindelof said. "As a teacher she's been one of the most flexible people I've ever met." And she's taught in some "extreme" conditions.

When the school, bursting at the seams with students, converted the music room into two classrooms, Nelson agreed to teach in one. It was her first year at Four Corners, after nine years of teaching math at East and Central middle schools.

The next year, they created a classroom in part of the school library. Nelson again stepped up to help, not only taking the non-traditional space, but looping with her students to teach third grade to increase their comfort level in that space.

"I like a challenge," Nelson said, and teaching is her dream job. "I can honestly say there's never a day when I don't love my job."

Wednesday, she spoke enthusiastically as she walked around the room, teaching math. Nelson would stop at student desks to ask questions and offer suggestions, then move on. Later, the students played "beat the calculator" -- trying to finish addition and subtraction problems in their heads faster than their classmate with the calculator could punch them in.

"My goal is just to make learning fun," Nelson said.

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Mission accomplished, according to her students.

"She always plays fun games like Around the World," said Will Schorr, 8. "She teaches you cool math problems."

Parents and a number of former students wrote letters of recommendation to nominate Nelson for the award. One letter by a former student brought tears to her eyes.

"Mrs. Nelson has never given up on a student," wrote Connor Gray, now a seventh grader. "She has all the qualities of a wonderful teacher. She is kind, forgiving, and patient. She is not afraid to be stern, but always gives a child a second chance.

"That is why I will always remember Mrs. Nelson as one of my favorite teachers."

Nelson recognizes each student as an individual and challenges them to exceed their highest potential, wrote Cassandra Flynn, whose son was in Nelson's class a few years ago.

The teacher puts on her "mom hat" to attend PTA meetings, Chicka added, and is always willing to volunteer.

Reading those letters, especially Connor's, was touching.

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"It's when you feel you really made a difference," Nelson said.

The teacher said she was amazed at her win.

"I wish I could share it with everyone," she said, at the school and in the Superior School District. It is not only the district in which she teaches, but the one where her children go to school.

"Superior is by far the best place, I feel," Nelson said.

According to the Wisconsin PTA, they also have the best elementary teacher.

Chicka encouraged other PTAs throughout the district to nominate their own teachers. Competition is good, she said, "The more the merrier."

She also urged them to get involved with the Reflections art contest. Last year, eight students from Four Corners entered the competition and one, kindergarten student Lauren Krob, won. This year, 20 students took part in the competition and four won - Lauren and fellow first grader Janae Widiker, fourth grader Amerah Elsisy and fifth grader Erika Odberg. Odberg submitted a video she made with her sister and friend. The others created visual art pieces. All four will travel with their families to La Crosse Saturday for their awards. The contest offers an opportunity for students to explore art, a subject that has seen consistent cuts.

It takes time to put together the nominations and artwork, but those efforts are rewarded, said Chicka. Although they have talented students at Four Corners, Lindelof said, they wouldn't have these opportunities to shine without the help of the PTA.

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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