Waconia teachers up for top honor

By Jason Schmucker
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John Pohland and Leslie Kurtz have been nominated by the Waconia Education Association for Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year award. (Submitted photo)

A pair of Waconia teachers are up for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.

Out of 29 nominees, the Waconia Education Association has put forth both Leslie Kurtz and John Pohland as the candidates from Waconia’s ISD 110.

“For me, this nomination is incredibly humbling because we have so many fantastic and deserving teachers here in Waconia,” Pohland said. “To have been nominated by many of my colleagues here at the high school, as well as parents and alumni from the district is an honor because I have a great amount of respect for those colleagues and members of our community.

Pohland teaches general music classes at the middle and high schools; and is also involved with the jazz, show choir, pep and marching bands. Pohland has been with Waconia schools since 2006.

Kurtz is a 32-year veteran with ISD 110, where she has taught at the elementary level – starting with first grade at Southview, then transferring to the then-new Bayview Elementary to teach fourth grade. Kurtz currently teaches fifth grade.

“This school district owns my heart,” Kurtz said. “The community has trusted me with their children, supporting them and me throughout decades. I don’t take the opportunity to make a positive difference in the life of a child lightly.”

Kurtz said her love of learning led her to choose teaching as a career.

“I became a teacher because I love to learn,” she said. “I wanted to foster that love of learning in children.”
For Pohland, teaching is in his blood.

“For me, education has always been important, with both of my grandparent’s on my dad’s side being teachers, as well as my parents,” he said. “My mom was a teacher and administrator in my elementary school, and then my dad was my high school band director.”

Both teachers take a student-centric approach to teaching, and avoid using a one-size fits-all philosophy.

“My focus is on ensuring that every child in my classroom progresses in their learning, whatever it takes,” Kurtz said. “I don’t worry a lot about labels, only identifying where each child is at currently and what he or she needs next.”

“It would be naïve to think that all students learn the same way. I do my best to deliver class lessons in multiple ways, knowing that some students learn better through reading what is on the page, while others need aural delivery, and most students fall somewhere in the middle,” Pohland said. “Students also learn at different speeds, so trying to give students time to learn at their own pace when possible is important, especially in music.”

For both teachers, the most memorable moments in the classroom are when students grasp the lesson.

“I love the look on students’ faces when we master a particular passage in a difficult piece of music and they have that look of pride and accomplishment because they feel success,” Pohland said.

Kurtz echoed Pohland’s sentiment.

“I still get a thrill whenever I see a face light up in understanding,” she said.

The 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will announced May 7 at the Radisson Blu Mall of America in Bloomington. Over the coming weeks, a 25-member panel of community leaders will winnow the field of 132 candidates down to a group of finalists.

Those nominees include another Waconia teacher, Cindy Shook, who was a local nominee but not put forth by the Waconia Education Association. Shook did not respond to a request for comment.

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