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A great honor for a longtime teacher

Renee Schultz is a kindergarten teacher at Riverview Elementary School.

Riverview Elementary School kindergarten teacher Renee Schultz is still kind of reeling from the recent announcement proclaiming her Farmington's Teacher of the Year. She's had a few weeks to get used to the idea, but she's still very honored to have been selected by her peers for the designation.

The Farmington School District is the only place she's ever taught, and she's got the better part of two decades to her credit. She started in Early Childhood Family Education at Akin Road Elementary, then transferred to the district's Kindergarten Center when it opened. When the Kindergarten Center closed and Riverview Elementary opened last year, Schultz made that transition, too.

She took a little time Monday to step out of the classroom and share some of her thoughts on education, life decisions and her award.

What made you want to become a teacher?

The ironic thing is, I didn't want to become a teacher. I didn't know that's what I wanted to do. In fact, I didn't even know that I wanted to go to college. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and so the only real reason why I attended college in the first place was because everybody else was, and I didn't know what else to do. I know, very broad in the grand scheme of things. Once I got there, I absolutely loved it. I started majoring in vocational rehabilitation because I knew I wanted to work with people. Once I did that for a while, I narrowed it down to working with children, and probably after my first year and a half, I switched majors and went into early childhood education. In Wisconsin you could get licensed in birth through third grade. I knew I wanted to work with the younger kids.

So you really like that age.

I do really like that age. It's one of those perfect jobs. You come to school and everybody wants to be there, and you get multiple little rewards throughout the day. Even if you come crabby, you can never leave crabby.

Have you ever thought of teaching older kids?

I'm not sure I have the energy to do this for another 25 years, so I thought maybe later in life, when I grow up, maybe I would love to teach at teacher workshops.

When you grow up.

When I grow up. When I graduate from Kindergarten. Just because it takes a lot of energy to teach kindergarten. I mean, you're on all the time. When I'm 60, maybe I'll still have that spunk.

Going back to teaching both the half day and the full day, is there one that you prefer over the other?

You know, they both have their perks and they both have their challenges. It's almost impossible to even compare the two because they're just two different programs. Do I see the wave of the future? I think the wave of the future has to be that the state funds all-day kindergarten, just because of the standards that are being put on kindergarten, and it's very tough to get them all in in a half-day program.

I read that you've been on several of the school district's committees.

I am on a lot of committees. Yes, I am. I probably started joining committees about two years ago. I just felt that I needed to be more actively involved with what was happening, and it was a good way to get to know other staff in the district. What was happening was for all those years we were at the Kindergarten Center, there were eight of us. We were secluded in a way. It was a great place to work, but (being on committees) just allows me to get out there and see a broader picture.

I'm on district literacy committee, report card committee, district staff development and building staff development, lab - "classroom," its called.... Off the top of my head, I can't think of what the other ones are. There's a lot of them. But I do enjoy being on the committees.

So let's talk about the Teacher of the Year. It's a pretty big honor.

It is. It's a big thing. It makes me cry. I cry every time I talk about this. Wow. I thought I was done with that. Sorry.

It's a hard thing to accept because I'm surrounded by such wonderful teachers that to be narrowed, zeroed in on feels very awkward to me. I don't feel worthy of it. I know it sounds strange, but it definitely is a team effort. Without other people to bounce ideas off from or to get other ideas from or to share, there would be no great teachers because that's what makes teachers great is everybody else.

How did you find out you had been named Teacher of the Year?

I knew that I had been nominated at our building level, and then I knew that out of all of the elementary schools, those names were all brought together. I think it's like five or six of us.

Right when the morning bell rang -- I don't remember which day it was -- the bell rang, and it was Mike Larson, one of our union stewards, he called me and said, "Are you sitting down?" and I instantly started to cry. Thank goodness my teaching assistant and my student teacher were there. And I looked them and said, "I need to walk out of the room for a minute." I went and found Diane Titusdahl. We've been longtime coworkers and we've been through a lot together. I'm pretty sure she's the person who nominated me. Gave her a big hug, went and composed myself and the rest of the day was kind of nutso from there. Did my call my parents, I called my husband.

Back to the whole college thing, nobody in my family had ever gone to college, and so it was one thing that we never really talked about as an option. It wasn't discouraged, but it wasn't encouraged. That summer right after high school graduation, that's when I went to my parents and said, "I think I want to go to college," and they were at a position in their life where they could afford to send me, so I owe them huge things.

And my husband, because he's put up with all the teaching things. His parents were both elementary teachers so he understands kind of the whole teaching profession. He didn't want to go into it, but he understands it.

Any more thoughts on any of this?

I truly believe it's the support of the community and the parents and the coworkers and the administration - it takes everybody to work together otherwise none of the pieces work. It's like my kids and their Lego kits. You have to have all of the little pieces fit in to get the machine to work. I think the district has that going right now.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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