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Patty Nygren is Farmington's top teacher

Farmington High School English teacher Patty Nygren has been teaching for 20 years and says she can't imagine doing anything else.

The Farmington Education Association recently selected Farmington High School English teacher Patty Nygren as its 2009-10 Teacher of the Year.

Nygren first came to District 192 in 1987, and has always taught English in the schools. She teaches the regular English classes -- contemporary and American literature -- and college in the schools courses through the University of Minnesota. In those classes, she teaches both college-level composition and literature. It's something she enjoys doing.

"That's real exciting to see students do college-level work," she said, "and to watch them become prepared for success. That's just such a big thing."

A quiet gal, Nygren was more than a little surprised, but definitely honored when she was chosen Teacher of the Year. On Tuesday, she talked a little about the designation.

So, you were selected as Teacher of the Year. How is that for you?

It's a tremendous honor to be able to represent my colleagues. I feel like I've learned so much from all the teachers here in the Farmington district, so it really means a lot to be chosen their Teacher of the Year. It feels good. A little bit overwhelming, all the attention. When I think about my teaching career, I think about my students, the gifts they have given me, the things I have learned from them. Being chosen Teacher of the Year is just a wonderful opportunity to reflect on all of my classes all of these years.

Why did you decide to become an English teacher?

I love to read. I love to write. It seemed a pretty good match that way. And for me, it's always been about how can I help my students to become lifetime readers, lifetime learners and lovers of language.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Definitely working with my students. It's kind of cliché, but when I see the light bulb go on, it's wonderful. It's very exciting. When a student has been working and working on something they're writing and finally produces a piece that is, to see kids produce something they're truly proud of or to see them analyze a piece of literature or a piece of art and begin to see it in new ways, that's what's to me is really exciting about teaching. Teaching kids to teach themselves.

If you weren't a teacher, what would you be?

Oh my goodness. I've thought about that occasionally, and I really can't come up with anything. I wanted to be a teacher from a very young age. About second grade was when I knew that was for me. I played teacher as a kid. I dabbled in thinking of other things, but I just always came back to teaching. Now having done it for over 20 years, I can't imagine getting up and doing anything else.

How has your job changed over the years?

Teaching English hasn't changed so much because it's all about helping students learn to communicate. The nuts and bolts of teaching hasn't changed so much, but certainly the tools have changed. When I started, it was typewriters, and now with computers, kids are so much more open to revision. I feel like maybe that's something that's changed. I can push students further because they've got tools that help them along. But kids themselves haven't changed much. They're fun. They're fun to hang around with and get to know.

Do you know who nominated you?

Officially, it's the Farmington Education Association. But I know the process was, I think, that teachers put names down, and from that they created a ballot. It kind of went through a couple of stages of voting.

Were you surprised when you found out you'd been selected as Teacher of the Year?

Absolutely. Probably like a lot of English teachers, I tend to be pretty quiet and just do my job, and so it took me by surprise. And that was really fun, then, to realize how many of my colleagues recognized the hard work that I just do as a matter of daily practice.

So what happens now?

Now I'm putting together a portfolio that I'll be submitting to the Minnesota Teacher of the Year competition. And from there? We'll see, I guess.

Any final thoughts?

I guess I'm looking forward to continuing to meet new students and other teachers and work together, learn together.