SD Teacher of the Year Hargreaves lauded for work in the classroom
Teacher of the Year Award recipient a shining example of quality educator, officials say
Amanda Hargreaves belongs in a classroom.
She has known that since she was a student herself during her early school days in Parkston, and it has since become clear to her peers and colleagues that leading a room of sixth-grade students in their studies at Mitchell Middle School is where she is meant to be after being named the South Dakota Teacher of the Year for 2021 in a virtual ceremony earlier this month.
“I was so surprised,” Hargreaves told the Mitchell Republic.
The award, administered by the South Dakota Department of Education, was announced by Ben Jones, South Dakota Secretary of Education during the virtual ceremony and was officially presented to Hargreaves by Jones and other education officials at an event at Mitchell Middle School Wednesday afternoon.
“Mrs. Hargreaves is a big deal. Do you know how many teachers there are in South Dakota?” Jones asked her students during the presentation at the school Wednesday. “There are about 10,000, and your teacher is the Teacher of the Year out of about 10,000. So that is a big deal.”
The class chattered with approval as Jones, South Dakota Education Association president Loren Paul, Mitchell Middle School Principal John Tyler and Mitchell School District Superintendent Joe Graves looked on.
Hargreaves, a graduate of Dakota State University in 2010 and the University of South Dakota in 2014, was named Teacher of the Year for the Mitchell School District in February and was later named Regional Teacher of the Year out of District 3. Her win as the South Dakota Teacher of the Year qualifies her for the National Teacher of the Year Award, as well.
She was presented with a check for $5,000 as part of the ceremony, which her students encouraged her to share with the class.
She is the second Mitchell teacher to be honored with the award in recent years, along with Pat Moller in 2012, who now teaches at Mitchell High School.
It is a great honor to receive the award, she said, but she gives as much credit to her fellow teachers in the Mitchell School District as she does to the teachers that inspired her when she was a high school student.
“I knew very early on (that I wanted to be a teacher). I had wonderful teachers when I was a kid in high school who seemed so excited to be in school and learn about me as a person and not just a student in their classroom,” Hargreaves said. “I kind of see them coming out in me in their teaching style.”
She had an affinity for teaching younger students, and after student teaching a second grade class, she vowed she would not teach any students older than that. That was until she stood in front of a classroom full of middle school students.
“And now here I am in sixth grade. It’s funny how things work,” Hargreaves said. “Part of what I love about middle school is that they are finding their place in the world and they chat with you about things. The social part is as much fun as the academics. That’s kind of the student I was, as well.”
Her students happily talked about the lessons Hargreaves had been sharing with them recently, as members of the delegation listened with interest.
Jones said being able to celebrate with an accomplished teacher in a classroom full of engaged students was a highlight after the ups and downs that have accompanied 2020. While parents and students had to deal with a sudden shift to remote learning due to COVID-19, teachers continued to coordinate lessons through digital means.
“It’s a chance to see great teaching and a chance to celebrate schools, particularly this year when teaching is taking on all this extra stuff,” Jones said. “Last spring, a lot of parents found out what teaching has contributed to their family life, what schools do, and in many ways, that is helping everyone want to stay in school.”
A teacher like Hargreaves can make the difference during difficult times like this.
“When (parents) know their kids can go to a great teacher like her, it makes it all better,” Jones said.
Loren Paul, president of the South Dakota Education Association, agreed that seeing talented teachers in action in their classrooms is one of the pleasures he takes from education, and Hargreaves demonstrated that during the brief ceremony, he said.
“It’s an important award to honor our educators. And when you have a teacher of the year like Amanada Hargreaves in the Mitchell Middle District, and to come and visit her in the classroom with her students, that’s just a bonus,” Paul said. “She’s definitely a leader in the classroom, and it’s fun to see her with her students.”
John Tyler, principal at Mitchell Middle School, said Hargreaves was a credit to the school and district. The award demonstrated that even in a school and district full of great instructors, it was possible to stand out amongst the crowd.
“It’s a great honor for our building, and it’s a testament to both Amanda and her whole team as the middle school. I feel blessed that the whole staff is great, and when you have the greatest of the great, that’s pretty darn impressive,” Tyler said. “She does a great job with students and communicates great with staff. I think all of our teachers do that, but what a great honor for her and for our community.”
Joe Graves, superintendent for the Mitchell School District, agreed that Hargreaves was a valuable asset to the district and her students. Her enthusiasm and engaging approach helps keep her students focused and interested in the subject matter, he said.
“Her kids very much buy into her instruction and methods in teaching English and science,” Graves said. “She very much does bring the content to life. It’s a real feather in our cap.”
Hargreaves is quick to defer praise, holding up her fellow Mitchell teachers and staff, such as Joe Childs, high school principal for the district, and former middle school principal Justin Zajic as providing the support classroom leaders need to do their jobs well.
“I think that we have phenomenal administrators. I think highly of Joe Childs, who hired me. I tell him all the time I would not be teaching if it weren’t for him. The first few years are tough and the expectations are high,” Hargreaves said. “Having that leadership and having people who have your back as a teacher is something that sets the district apart.”
There are good days and tougher days, she said. But she would just as soon navigate those days from the head of her classroom, with her students tuned into their lessons and all of them sharing the joys of learning together.
It’s where she belongs.
“Every day is an adventure. Every day is different. That’s why I love it. I’m not a person who can do monotonous things. Just when you think you know everything and you know how to do your job, you relearn how to do new things. That’s the best part of being a teacher,” Hargreaves said.