Gov. Branstad announces 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year
Jane Schmidt, a longtime teacher known for her leadership, her ability to connect with students, and her commitment to improvement, is the 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year, Gov. Terry Branstad announced in Maquoketa.
“Great teachers make a world of difference for their students, for their colleagues and for their communities,” Branstad said. “The Lt. Governor and I congratulate Jane Schmidt, who is a true role model for both students and teachers.”
Schmidt, a 33-year teaching veteran from Delmar, is an eighth-grade literacy and language arts teacher at Maquoketa Middle School in the Maquoketa Community School District.
“The Teacher of the Year award honors exceptional teachers who leave a lasting impact on the lives of their students and fellow teachers,” Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck said. “The leadership of outstanding teachers like Jane Schmidt will help our entire education system grow and improve.”
Schmidt’s leadership extends well beyond the classroom. She serves as a teacher mentor at her school and, in a new role this fall, she coaches educators, refines curriculum and gauges the effects of teaching practices across the school district. Schmidt also will help her school district craft a teacher leadership and compensation plan, an opportunity made available by the education reform law adopted by Iowa legislators this year.
“I love schools, and I’ve never been tired of teaching,” Schmidt 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.”
Schmidt works with her students to nurture not only a love for reading and writing, but also a deep understanding of the importance of literacy. She recently shared with her students a study on college dropouts that showed a link to an inability to keep up with the reading.
“Literacy is key to everything,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt’s classes also emphasize communicating effectively, both in small groups and one on one.
“In this era of texting, that face-to-face communication doesn’t always take place and it’s important,” she said. “We hear from employers that kids don’t know how to communicate, how to talk, so it’s something we have to focus on.”
Schmidt says she was inspired to become a teacher as a teenager, when she volunteered at a summer camp for children with special needs during high school and then volunteered at a laboratory school as a freshman at Illinois State University. Her teaching roots began in special education. Through that experience, she developed a love for literacy instruction and went back to school to earn endorsements in reading and language arts.
Schmidt’s spirit of self-improvement never waned. She earned National Board Certification in 2004, after witnessing a dramatic impact the credential had on one of her own children’s teachers. In May, Schmidt earned a second master’s degree. She also has learned how to use video and other technology to incorporate digital storytelling into her classes.
“This ‘digital immigrant’ feels strongly that our instruction must include technology if we are to relate to the ‘digital natives’ in our classrooms and prepare them for the 21st century,” Schmidt wrote in her Iowa Teacher of the Year application.
Schmidt started her teaching career at a special education cooperative in Valparaiso, Ind. She taught special education in the Davenport Community School District for seven years before coming to Maquoketa in 1989. She also has been a special education consultant at Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency in Davenport. Schmidt has taught language arts and reading at Maquoketa Middle School since 1997.
“It is Jane’s strong intellectual curiosity and pragmatic regard for doing what is best for students that truly sets her apart,” Maquoketa Superintendent Kim Huckstadt wrote in a recommendation letter. “She is an individual who sets goals and strives for continuous improvement.”
Finalists for the Iowa Teacher of the Year award are:
- Aaron Maurer, a gifted education teacher and instructional coach at Bettendorf Middle School in Bettendorf
- Kari Murray, a science teacher at Carlisle High School in Carlisle
- Jon Parrott, an 8th grade social studies teacher at Urbandale Middle School in Urbandale
- Kristi Wickre, a special education teacher at Smouse Opportunity School in Des Moines (Des Moines Public Schools)
- Elaine Wolf, a culinary arts teacher at Central Campus in Des Moines (Des Moines Public Schools)
Schmidt was chosen by a committee that includes 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.
Schmidt and the finalists will be honored at a luncheon for outstanding Iowa teachers on November 8 at Prairie Meadows Events Center in Altoona.
The Iowa Teacher of the Year award was established in 1958. The annual program is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education through an appropriation from the Iowa Legislature. Honorees serve as ambassadors to education and act as liaisons to primary and secondary schools, higher education and organizations across the state.
Jane Schmidt's Speech
Helen Keller is credited with saying, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.” Who but she would understand that? Someone who spent her entire life without sight or hearing but traveled the world, learned to talk, gave speeches, and wrote books. Someone who went well beyond what even she could ever imagine.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – a laugh, a sigh, a thought, an idea – only to be felt with the heart. I stand before you amazed at this honor, well beyond what I could ever imagine - an opportunity to represent teachers and Maquoketa across the state of Iowa. I want to thank those on the committee from the Iowa Department of Education for having faith in me, I want to thank Director Brad Buck for calling and giving me the good news, and I would especially like to thank Governor Terry Branstad for taking time away from governing this wonderful state of Iowa to make a presentation to an 8th grade literacy teacher in Maquoketa.
I have had the best teachers in my life – my parents who taught me the importance of hard work and respecting others, my brothers and sister who taught me to love unconditionally, my husband who taught me the importance of always doing what is right and never giving up, and my friend Carol who nominated me for this opportunity.
I have had the very best teachers right here at Maquoketa Middle School. Our dedicated middle school teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, secretaries, nurses, Mrs. Snell - our building principal, Mr. Bowman - our associate principal, and Dr. Huckstadt - my former principal and now superintendent. But without a doubt the most valuable teachers we teachers have are you students with which we share a classroom.
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. 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.
Through the years teachers and students have cried together, laughed together, drank cocoa together, learned together, but most importantly made a difference in the lives of each other.
In sports and activities, there is a term called the “sweet spot”. In golf, the sweet spot is that exact spot on the club that when it connects with the ball it results in a long drive toward the hole. In soccer, the sweet spot is when the player receives the ball at just the right angle, and she or he knows they will connect and send it sailing into the goal. For musicians, the sweet spot is that point in performing when the tone is sweet and the melody perfect. And for the baseball player, the sweet spot is that pitch that when it comes in over the plate at just the right spot. The batter knows without a doubt that she or he will connect, and the ball will go sailing out of the park.
Students, every day you have teachers throwing pitches at you – pitches called math, reading, social studies, science, art, industrial tech, music – pitches that you look at and either choose to swing and try to connect or allow to fly by. Each pitch is being sent your way with the hope that you will realize it is your sweet spot – something you can connect with and know that with that connection you will travel far. That is what being in middle school is all about, that is what living life is all about – learning what your sweet spot is and learning how discovering and connecting with it can take you great places with passion and purpose .
Teaching is my sweet spot. Learning is my sweet spot. As teachers, as co-workers, it is our job to help one another discover just what their sweet spot is. It is a journey we go on together as we travel down this road called life. Don’t waste each opportunity – embrace them – learn from them - and remember: The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.
Thank you for this great honor. I am touched beyond words.