Perhaps the greatest measure of a successful teacher is how much they inspire enthusiasm for the subject in their pupils.
Out of a field of 234 Illinois teachers for Illinois Teacher of the Year, 10 have now been selected as finalists, including one from Dwight, Dwight Township High School English teacher Lindsey Jensen.
The next step is Sept. 6 when she travels to Springfield for an interview with the judging committee. She will also be meeting with the 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year.
A special banquet will be held Oct. 28 to honor all 10 finalists, when the Teacher of the Year for 2018 will be announced.
When nominating her for the award, Dwight Police Chief Tim Henson described how Jensen has inspired his own children to love reading, writing and the theater.
“Both of my children have a new appreciation for reading, composition and theatrical performances,” Henson wrote. “When I asked my children about their new appreciations, each said; ‘Mrs. Jensen is always upbeat, positive and provides a fun but structured learning environment.’ She allows them to think outside the box. Mrs. Jensen is admired and adored by her students and (the students’) parents.”
Superintendent Richard Jancek echoed Henson’s comments.
“Mrs. Lindsey Jensen is a professional educator who inspires young adults to succeed in and out of the classroom,” Jancek told The Paper in an email message last week.
But not only does she inspire, she encourages her students to stretch, Jancek explained.
“She pushes her students past their comfort levels to show them their real talent and potential,” Jancek continued. “As a Dwight parent, I hope my son will have the opportunity to be in her class someday.”
“No one is more shocked than I am to be in the top 10,” Jensen told The Paper. “I cried happy tears for two days straight.”
Jensen has been teaching at DTHS since 2008, her first full-time teaching gig since graduating from Oakland City University in Indiana with a master of arts in teaching, 2007.
She is currently studying for her doctorate degree in education from Illinois State University. Her dissertation is on young adult literature.
She is the only Dwight teacher to receive a $1,000 grant from WHOI television.
The 2002 graduate of Mt. Vernon Township High School is the daughter of Allen and Debbie Karch of Dwight and Alan Presswood of Centralia.
She and her husband Morgan have three dogs and a cat. No human children … yet.
To be nominated, she had to have a letter of nomination, which was written by Henson, plus letters from a parent (Kathleen Gettinger), a student (Rebecca Ruder), a colleague (Erik Borne), and an administrator (Dan Kaiser). She also had to write a 12-page essay describing her teaching philosophy.
She said her philosophy was shaped in part when she was a teacher’s aide for behavioral disordered students in Carmi, Illinois.
“I believe education is empowerment,” she said. “I believe all students are capable of learning.”
She said the experience in Carmi was scary, and sometimes became violent.
“I started out in a classroom that would send most adults running for the hills,” she said.
“I went into it with certain preconceived notions about what it would be like. That environment (with behaviorial disorder pupils) molded my beliefs.”
Her teaching philosophy was also molded by a teacher she described as “the great” Trudy Jacobs.
She said when she came to Dwight, she was moving into a strange town where she knew no one (her mother moved to town later).
“I was surprised immediately by the most awesome veteran teachers.”
She said she works with some of the best teachers in Illinois and “in truth any one of them could be nominated for Teacher of the Year.”
“That first year can be overwhelming. At the time, I had no family that lived here.”
“In my 30 years as an educator, I have never met a teacher who has matched the levels of enthusiasm and professionalism that Lind-sey brings with her each day,” said DTHS principal Dan Kaiser. “She is not afraid to share her ideas as an educator and has worked cooperatively with her colleagues to develop several intriguing and valuable learning experiences for students.”
“Lindsey is very genuine and very well-respected by the administration,” said school board president Brian Perschnick. “Her commitment to DTHS and the Dwight community with her many talents makes her very worthy of this award.”
Superintendent Richard Jancek echoed those words of praise.
“She uses her dynamic and infectious energy to make learning fun, relevant and applicable to her students’ lives,” Jancek said.
She fell in love with the people and community of Dwight, and also fell in love with one of its natives, Morgan Jensen.
At DTHS, she is able to work with a lot of the leaders at the school as faculty advisor for the student council.
She is also active in the Special Olympics Polar Plunge fund-raiser and encourages students to participate in the charity event.
Are there any challenges in the job?
“Most teachers always feel like they are not doing enough,” she said.
She said she is grateful for the support at home with husband Morgan, who tolerates her staying up late at night grading papers.
She said another challenge is “sometimes I get a bit obsessive” about her student’s use of grammar