Ask any teacher when he or she decided this would be their chosen profession, and the answer, perhaps more often than from any other field, is, “I just always knew.”
It’s that dedication to the craft that makes good teachers great. And it’s great teachers who know what path they’ve chosen and show a love for education that end up nominated as Teacher of the Year in the state of Minnesota.
This is the path followed by Otsego Elementary first grade teacher Erin Rehnblom, a recently announced semifinalist for the Minnesota Educators Assocation 2016 Teacher of the Year, representing ISD 728 in the field of more than 2,000 teachers nominated in the round of just 35.
Nominated by Nancy Benson at Otsego Elementary, Rehnblom has known teaching was her calling since she was in first grade. Now, after spending time at nearly every elementary grade level, she is molding the minds of first-graders in Otsego.
“I think my colleagues can feel that I love what I do. I’m very passionate about what I do. I think teaching is a lot of work, but there’s no more rewarding experience out there. To see the kids advance, that’s so amazing,” she said.
The Brainerd native is a graduate of Bemidji State, and actually spent one year in Minnetonka before finding a home in ISD 728.
“We’re a big enough school district that we can be cutting edge – we have a lot of resources and there is a lot of working together with fellow teachers because of our size. Yet, our communities have that small town feeling, and so our schools, themselves, do, too. That makes it feel like home here,” she said.
Teaching first-graders isn’t all you do in an elementary school, Rehnblom said. She makes it a point to visit with the other kids in her “pod,” or area of the building. Many are kindergartners, who appreciate seeing that familiar face on the first day of first grade.
“You give someone a high five or ask how their weekend was, and suddenly you’ve made that connection. Then, when they come back, and are in your room, there’s someone they know up there. That’s exciting.”
Rehnblom built her platform around mental illness, something she sees as a growing struggle for not only elementary-aged students, but with families.
“It starts at home. We need to address that part of the situation. What we see here at school? That might just be the tip of the iceberg. I think there’s a definite line that is there, but you can move it from ‘not dealing with it’ because it is a problem in the home forward to a place of understanding and trying to address it. It’s a larger issue than most people know,” she said.
And it’s in her background. Rehnblom’s mother is a social worker, and Erin often turns to her with some problem-solving discussions when a situation might arise in her classroom or pod.
“We have great resources in our building, Betsy [Danner], Nancy and our leadership do a great job. But teachers need resources, too,” she said.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the ISD 728 communications piece: Staff Happenings.