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Mitchell English teacher named state’s best

Teresa Berndt

Mitchell teacher Teresa Berndt has been named the South Dakota Language Arts Teacher of the Year.

Berndt received the award during the annual South Dakota Council of Teachers of English conference, which was Oct. 11-12 at Cedar Shore Resort in Oacoma. The theme for the conference was “Dream. Connect. Ignite!”

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According to a news release from the SDCTE, 54 teachers from area middle schools, high schools and post-secondary institutions took part in the conference.

Berndt said the award is still sinking in.

“It’s still surreal, I think,” she said Sunday. “There’s some fantastic teachers that are sitting in that room with you.”

She was nominated for the award anonymously — though she has her suspicions of who it was — and then filled out an application answering questions about her experience and teaching philosophy, etc. To be accepted amid the other educators, Berndt said, was humbling.

“You don’t really just accept it for yourself, you accept it for all of those with you in the room that have supported you in your journey with education,” she said. “For a teacher, I don’t think it’s about what I do alone. It’s every teacher that has mentored me, who has networked with me, to every student who has graced my classroom.”

A Tripp native, Berndt said she has been teaching for 20 years. She is in her eighth year at MHS, where she teaches 10th grade English, 11th grade English honors and encounters with literature. In other school years and other locations, she has also taught technical writing, drama, Shakespeare, creative writing and has acted as the one-act play director.

“Berndt is known in the classroom for making a difference to the students she teaches,” the news release states. “Writing is a tool she uses a lot in her classroom to make connections to real-life situations and to connect with her students.”

In addition to her teaching duties, Berndt has been active on several committees and associations — which definitely keeps her busy.

“My husband would say, ‘there are two magical letters in the alphabet, “n” and “o,” and they go together,’ ” Berndt said with a laugh. “But, everything I invest my time in, I have to believe there’s a reason for it. For me, they’re all connected.”

Her favorite part of teaching, she said, is her students — their growth, their development, and the constant challenge to her as an educator to be able to meet their needs.

“Sometimes it’s a challenge how to engage them,” she said. “But I learn with them every day, and from them. I get a lot from them.”

The conference, originally scheduled for last spring, was postponed until October because of inclement weather. Berndt said this year’s hot topic was the Common Core Standards. According to the news release, the conference began on Friday and included roundtables, an annual business meeting and a visit from Rick Melmer, educational adviser for national and state agencies. He discussed the challenges and benefits of the Common Core Standards and offered advice for making the transition to these new standards.

Charles Woodard, the South Dakota Author of the Year, was the guest speaker during the awards banquet. Woodard is a distinguished professor at South Dakota State University who teaches American Indian literature, poetry, American literature and composition courses. The 2013 author of the year, Marilyn Kratz, of Yankton, was named as well. Kratz is the author of more than 400 article stories and poems, mostly in children’s literature.

Alisha Limoges of Elk Point-Jefferson was named the 2013 Young Leader. The Young Leader award is designed to nurture the development of new leaders within the state. Early career teachers with one to five years of experience, who have demonstrated a capacity for professional leadership and a willingness to join and participate in the organization, are eligible for the award.

Sessions of the conference continued on Saturday with topics including Common Core lesson planning, co-teaching, multicultural and humanistic literatures, student-created questions, multi-genre writing, and increasing vocabulary and communication skills with poetry.