‘It really is the kids’ — Traci Wilson named Mitchell School District Teacher of the Year
Becky Coats also named Classified Staff of the Year
MITCHELL — Traci Wilson said she was a bit surprised when her name was announced as the 2023 Mitchell School District Teacher of the Year.
But Wilson, a 15-year veteran of the Mitchell School District, a Geddes native and a graduate of Geddes High School, said she was proud as she accepted the award at a ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy.
“It’s quite an honor,” Wilson told the Mitchell Republic following the ceremony, which saw the MCTEA commons area filled with fellow district employees and other supporters. “Like I was sharing with my co-workers, it really is a team effort. It’s collaborating and sharing ideas.”
Wilson, 36, has been with the school district for 15 years and is currently a third grade teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School. Since becoming a teacher she has learned that educating the next generation of young adults is a team effort that requires the support of everyone in the district.
And the Mitchell School District is rich in that kind of support, she said.
“It’s amazing here. Everybody is super-supportive,” Wilson said.
Wilson was among five candidates for the honor of Teacher of the Year. Others nominated and on hand for the ceremony Wednesday were Alison Hansen, a first grade teacher at L.B. Williams Elementary School, Rebecca Gunnare, a third grade teacher at Longfellow Elementary School, Robin Winter, a math teacher at Mitchell Middle School and Heather Engebretson, a special education teacher at Mitchell High School.
While there are many reasons to enjoy being a teacher in the Mitchell School District, Wilson said it really comes down to one simple factor.
“I would really have to say it’s the kids. I’m big on building relationships and getting to know (the students). The relationships and all that come first, and once you build that then the academics follow,” Wilson said. “It really is the kids.”
The event was held under the theme of “Kidstruction,” and the commons area was decorated with images of roadwork, hardhats and the art of building. Joe Childs, principal for Mitchell High School and interim superintendent for the Mitchell School District, said while the professions of teaching and construction may at first seem at counterpoints, they have more in common than one might think.
“On the surface, education and construction seem vastly different. But when you examine it more closely, the similarities become clear,” Childs told the assembled crowd. “Just as with a construction project, it begins with a blueprint and a design, a successful teaching experience requires careful planning, a clear understanding and the end goal in mind.”
He noted people in both professions need solid foundations, to constantly improve their trade and to make sure they understand new techniques and technologies.
“Only teachers do all this and also do recess duty,” Childs said.
Childs also noted that without teachers there would be no skilled trade workers. That is a reality that will extend well into the future after a teacher’s time at the front of the classroom is long since passed. The knowledge they passed down will continue to be passed down to future generations, cultivating a pattern of constant growth.
“The difference (between the two professions) is this: when a construction worker puts together a building, eventually that building will decay and fall. But an educator shaping minds of the future? Your lessons live on forever,” Childs said.
Also recognized as the Classified Staff of the Year at the event was Becky Coats, who serves as librarian at Longfellow Elementary School.
Coats said she had been working in that position for about a year-and-a-half, but has been with the district for closer to 13 years. She said she was honored by the award, but working in her current position has been rewarding in and of itself.
“I love the people, and I adore the children,” Coats told the Mitchell Republic.
Working as a librarian allows Coats to open up a wider world to young minds. She exposes them to events like the famous Iditarod sled race, taking them to far-off places and lighting a curious fire in their minds.
“I love exposing them to different things. Anything I can do to get them to enjoy reading and picking up a book and seeing different things,” Coats said. “Because, through books, you can see different things.”
Coats, 52, was selected from a group of nominees that included Randi Zimmerman, food service worker at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School, Blair Overweg, a paradeducator at L.B. Williams Elementary School, Cindell Christopher, a paraeducator at Mitchell Middle School and Lillian Puetz, a custodian at Mitchell High School.
Wilson is now eligible for the Region Teacher of the Year and the South Dakota Teacher of the Year honors.
Childs told those in attendance that the work of people like Wilson and Coats will live long into the future, as their lessons and eye-opening experiences are passed down from one generation to the next.
That is a legacy that will continue far past the Teacher of the Year and Classified Staff of the Year honors.
“The teacher’s lessons live forever,” Childs said. “I don’t know for what greater reason we have to celebrate than that.”