Gov. Doug Burgum and state Superintendent Kirsten Baesler today announced Leah Juelke, an English Language (EL) instructor at Fargo South High School, as the North Dakota Teacher of the Year for 2018.
Juelke was chosen from a group of five finalists for the award, which Burgum and Baesler presented Thursday during a ceremony at Fargo South attended by Juelke’s students, educator colleagues, state legislators, and other well-wishers.
Juelke has taught at South since 2013. She teaches students who do not speak English fluently, a group that includes immigrant students who are not native English speakers.
“Every teacher in North Dakota can create a love of lifelong learning, and encourage the kind of courageous curiosity that will help our students succeed in a 21st century economy,” Burgum said. “It is with tremendous gratitude that we thank Leah for her role inspiring students to learn more about themselves – and the world around them.”
Three years ago, Juelke began a writing project for her immigrant students, called “Journey to America.” Her goals were to help her students strengthen their ability to write English, and give their teachers and peers a better understanding of their backgrounds.
The students wrote essays about growing up in refugee camps, hiding under beds while their villages burned, and having family members killed in wars. They wrote about what it was like to see snow and touch a computer for the first time. Anthologies of the Fargo students’ stories have been published, and the project led to a new book, published by a Minneapolis nonprofit called Green Card Voices, which produces collections of immigrants’ stories.
“One of my greatest accomplishments in education would be that I have helped to give my students a voice and a platform to express themselves and to educate others,” Juelke said. “As Fargo grows into a much more diverse community, cultural education is imperative.”
Baesler noted that Juelke has taught in Taiwan, Costa Rica and Mexico, and trained teachers in the African nations of Tanzania and South Africa. Juelke’s background, Baesler said, “shows her openness to international perspectives, and her willingness to learn more about the world of her students.”
“Mrs. Juelke is genuine. Her students sense that. They understand that. They respect that,” Baesler said. “And Mrs. Juelke’s willingness to go the extra mile is essential in helping her students to learn.”
Juelke said she began considering a career in education after she joined the Minnesota Army National Guard as a medic during her second year at college. She intended to complete a resident nursing degree, but her Guard unit was deployed overseas, leaving her back home and responsible for training new recruits.
“I found planning and implementing the medic training enjoyable and fulfilling,” she said. “I loved the leadership role and the realization that I was making a difference. At that point, I decided to change my major from nursing to teaching.”
Other finalists for the Teacher of the Year honor were Heather Jane Tomlin-Rohr, a kindergarten teacher at Louis L’Amour Elementary in Jamestown; Sandra Evenson, a sixth-grade science teacher at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo; Thomas Klapp, a science teacher at Northern Cass High School in Hunter; and Lynae Holmen, who teaches special needs and deaf and hard of hearing students at Longfellow Elementary in Minot.
North Dakota Teacher of the Year candidates may be nominated by people within a teacher’s school or community. Nominees are asked to detail their educational history and awards, and to write several essays, including descriptions of their teaching philosophies, what influenced them to become teachers, and their thoughts on major education issues.
The applications are reviewed and evaluated by a selection committee that chooses five finalists. The Teacher of the Year is picked from among those finalists.
The committee includes representatives from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and groups representing teachers, school administrators, career and technical education and nonpublic schools. The incumbent Teacher of the Year is also asked to participate.