Award-winning teacher to pursue 'long career' in education
Eight months ago, fourth-grade teacher Amanda Christensen's life changed forever.
In a surprise announcement, which drew appearances from South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Education Secretary Melody Schopp, Christensen was awarded the $25,000 Milken Educator Award.
Dubbed the "Oscar of teaching," the national award honors a handful teachers across the country for their commitment and success in education. Christensen was the lone South Dakotan chosen for the award.
"When I think of the award, I'm still absolutely blown away. If there wasn't a picture hanging right there, I don't think I'd believe it," Christensen said Wednesday, pointing to a photo behind her desk in her classroom at Longfellow Elementary School.
The 29-year-old said since the surprise announcement in January, the excitement and drama surrounding the "amazing award" has died down, but not in her mind.
Christensen was awarded $25,000 in which she could spend however she wanted. As a mother of two, she first decided to pay off a few bills. Then her family took a trip to Florida for a family wedding. The family already had plans to travel to Florida, but thanks to the award money, they could extend their stay to explore the Tampa area including a trip to SeaWorld.
The rest of the money is currently being saved as Christensen has big plans for her future including a doctorate degree.
"I do feel like I have a long career ahead of me yet in the field of education," Christensen said, noting that Milken's motto is that the future belongs to the educator.
Christensen said she's considering pursuing a degree focused on administration possibly becoming a principal and later a superintendent. Both jobs, she feels she'd be good at.
An area native, Christensen graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 2007, and then obtained a bachelor's degree in 2011 from Augustana University. In 2014, she received her master's degree from Augustana. She now lives in Mitchell with her husband, Marcus, and their two children.
Christensen said her goal is to lift people up around her, which could mean becoming an educator at the college level some day.
"My goal is to ultimately affect as many kids, as many teachers and just build a positive network of people as possible," she said.
With the award, Christensen earned a spot at the Milken Educator Forum this past spring in New Orleans. While there, Christensen said she was given the "biggest gift of all," which is networking.
Since the conference, Christensen said she has enrolled in the Milken Foundation's new mentoring program, providing her a mentor who is a veteran teacher out of Omaha. It's her new mentor, and the many connections she made in New Orleans that she can reach out and seek advice.
But what stands out about the Milken award to Christensen was the organization's mission to celebrate, activate and elevate.
"I feel like I've been celebrating these last eight months," she said. "Every time I think about it I get it excited. But I really feel I'm at the activation moment. I'm itching to do something, but I haven't quite put my finger on just what that quite is yet."