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home : news : news Tuesday, May 24, 2016

10/26/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Teacher of the Year Jane Schmidt addresses Maquoketa Middle School students, colleagues, family, Gov. Terry Branstad and others after the announcement of her honor was made Oct. 18. MSP photo by Kelly Gerlach
Schmidt named 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year

Kelly Gerlach

Those assembled knew something special was about to happen Oct. 18 when Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and new director of the Iowa Department of Education Dr. Brad Buck entered the Maquoketa Middle School gym. A hush fell over the crowd even as the gym buzzed with excitement. Those two men don't just appear at any old school on a whim.

The reason for their visit was the governor's announcement of Jane Schmidt's selection as 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year. Schmidt teaches eighth-grade literacy and language arts at the middle school and is the district's director of student and staff growth and development.

The announcement was not a surprise to Schmidt, who underwent a considerable application and interview process after being nominated for the honor by colleague and friend Carol Hammill.

Schmidt said in May she received an e-mail telling her of the nomination. She was interviewed and had to give a presentation. Dr. Buck called her to congratulate her on her final selection a few weeks ago, Schmidt said.

Since then, the challenge has been to keep the award a secret. That she did. A select few people within the district knew Schmidt was receiving the honor.

District school board members said after the Oct. 14 meeting, they were told "special dignitaries would be coming to the district, and it would be to their benefit to attend" Friday's assembly.

Schmidt thanked her family, friends and colleagues for their help and encouragement throughout her career.

"The students are really my teachers," she said in an interview after the announcement. She explained it is through student feedback that teachers know if they are achieving their goals of educating students.

"Students, you teach us humility when we think a lesson is outstanding; you show us how to use technology when we digital immigrants are confused, and you digital natives simply figure it out; you show us how to care deeply, and your interests encourage us to constantly seek new methods to keep you engaged in learning," Schmidt told the assembly.

"I speak for all of your teachers when I say from the most difficult student to the most brilliant student, we share a learning journey that brings us all one step closer to being the people we aspire to be."

She also spoke of the continued need for collaboration among teachers everywhere. "We are not in this alone. Collaboration is key."

Branstad called Schmidt "a great teacher who has made a world of difference to her students, colleagues and the community she serves."

Teaching is her calling

Schmidt, a 33-year educator from Delmar who comes from a family of educators, was one of six finalists for the honor. She has worked for the Maquoketa Community School District since 1997.

In addition to her teaching duties, Schmidt serves as teacher mentor at the school. She coaches educators, refines curriculum and gauges the effects of teaching practices across the district.

Schmidt said she was inspired to become a teacher as a teenager, when she volunteered at a summer camp for children with special needs. She started her teaching career at a special education cooperative in Valparaiso, Ind., then taught special education in the Davenport Community School District for seven years before coming to Maquoketa in 1989.

She served as a special education consultant with Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency in Bettendorf before teaching language arts and reading at Maquoketa Middle School.

Schmidt's dedication to her students, her colleagues, education and her own self-improvement never waned. She earned National Board Certification in 2004 and last May earned her second master's degree.

"Teaching is not just a job to Jane; it is a calling. Her passion for teaching is readily apparent if you observe her in the classroom, listen to her at a teachers' meeting or chat with her outside of school," Hammill wrote in her nomination.

"She has the rare ability to encourage colleagues to try new methods and to improve their lessons without being critical of them.

"Jane is an articulate, dedicated professional. She has the ability to inspire others. She is tireless in her dedication to her students and the teaching profession," Hammill continued. "Jane is an awesome teacher and person. I feel fortunate to call her my friend and to have had a chance to teach with her."

Schmidt's "creativity and fascination with technology," Hammill said, have kept students engaged in the classroom. Schmidt took students to local nursing homes and paired them with residents. The outcome was biographies complete with photographs.

Schmidt's dedication to education reaches far beyond the classroom. She helped eighth-graders form the group "Make a Difference." In its first year, members raised $4,600, using the money on their World Hunger Service Day project to package more than 17,000 meals for the needy both at home and overseas.

She devised the Intergenerational Internet program in which senior citizens teamed with middle school students to learn how to navigate the Internet.

In 2003, she went to the superintendent with a plan to create the Maquoketa Education Fund, the purpose of which is to provide grants to teachers within the district to purchase additional technology and materials not in the district's budget. Ten years later, that fund has awarded more than $160,000 in the district.

"The Teacher of the Year award honors exceptional teachers who leave a lasting impact on the lives of their students and fellow teachers," Buck said. "The leadership of outstanding teachers like Jane Schmidt will help our entire education system grow and improve."

Final selection of the honoree was made by a committee of representatives from the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa State Education Association, the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Parent Teachers Association, the Area Education Agencies, the Iowa Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and 2013 Teacher of the Year Tania Johnson.

"It is Jane's strong intellectual curiosity and pragmatic regard for doing what is best for students that truly sets her apart," Dr. Kim Huckstadt, Maquoketa superintendent, wrote in a recommendation letter. "She is an individual who sets goals and strives for continuous improvement."

As Teacher of the Year, Schmidt will travel the state as an ambassador of education.

She and the other five finalists will be honored during a luncheon for outstanding Iowa teachers Nov. 8.

"I love school, and I've never been tired of teaching," the ever-smiling honoree said. "It's always been my passion, and it's always given me purpose. I think that's all we ask of a career - that, and a commitment to continuous improvement."

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