B-H Names Teacher Of Year
She’s the “crabby old lady that really cares.”
That’s how long-time Britton-Hecla educator Joleen Christianson hopes her students would describe her. And one of them thought highly enough of the grade 9-12 math teacher to nominate her as the school’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.
Christianson was selected as the district’s honoree by a Britton-Hecla administrative committee and will now compete against other school district winners in regional competition.
“I think she wants and tries with all she has to make sure her students succeed,” wrote Christianson’s student nominator. “She teaches a lot about the real world and how it will be, just by the way she teaches us.”
B-H High School Principal Carrie James said Christianson’s caring is obvious.
“She is passionate about kids and learning,” said James. “She connects with students both educationally and personally. Her love of math is evident in her teaching, and you only need to spend a short amount of time in her room to see that she loves kids and cares about them. I greatly value her commitment to students and to education.”
After 35 years in the teaching business, Christianson’s enthusiasm for learning is still going strong. The 1978 Frederick High School graduate earned her education degree from Northern State University and began her career in Waubay in 1982, as an English teacher.
“Ever since Sunday School and then going to school in first grade, this was it,” said Christianson. “I was going to be a teacher no matter what.”
She didn’t have any particular role models. Her parents expected her to do well in school, but she is the only one of the immediate family in education. But she never planned to be a math teacher.
“Teaching English was the ultimate. Math was just something I did because the classes were fun.”
She taught only English her first year at Waubay but then picked up some junior high math classes the next year. Christianson taught a little of both English and math when she moved to Bristol, and when moving to Hecla was strictly a math teacher. She taught there for six years until the Britton and Hecla school districts reorganized and she has taught 9-12 math at Britton-Hecla for the past 15 years.
Christianson went back to school herself in 2013 when she began a Masters program, graduating in May of 2015 with a Masters in Teaching and Learning degree.
“I guess that is what I am all about – teaching and learning,” said Christianson, who much prefers to avoid the spotlight and work behind the scenes. “I expect a lot of the kids and have high expectations for all that they do. There is no slacking around here and I tell the kids they are going to step up and do it. I run a very structured classroom. Despite all their activities, kids have a lot of unstructured time, and I think they enjoy structure like that sometimes.”
Christianson is the first to admit that she is a bit “oldschool” when it comes to her teaching methods.
“The world of electronics has changed everything. We first had computers 21 years ago in Hecla, but today a lot of teachers don’t even know what a grade book is because computers do all those things
“But as strange as it is, there are those classes in college where the old world is still the way to do things, especially in math. Despite what computers and calculators can do, you still have to know the processes to put things in right.
“In the electronic world everything is instant, but math is more of a seven-course meal. You do steps and check things. Someone still has to be the person who double checks formulas to make sure it is being done correctly. There are enough other classes with all the high-tech stuff, so I can try to keep the kids grounded a little bit.”
But Christianson also is always looking for new ways to reach kids. “She pushes herself to grow and learn more as a teacher by trying new techniques,” added James. “She also volunteers to attend personal development opportunities and to work in groups that review testing and standards.”
When she’s not teaching, Christianson likes to read, do crossword puzzles, and has done a lot of traveling in search of antiques. Last summer she and her husband put on 5,000 miles and traveled the backroads of 11 states in search of old treasures.
Most of all, Christianson has a real passion to make learning fun, spiced with a dash of realism to prepare her students for the future.
“I enjoy learning and love to be part of the learning experience. My philosophy is to try and instill in them that learning is fun while preparing them somewhat for the other world out there. A lot of kids still think that once they are done with high school everything will always be peachy keen.”
After spending 35 years in education, Christianson said the biggest question she gets is when she plans to retire. She has a quick answer – not anytime soon.
“I think I will know when it’s time. But I know I’m not ready to greet at Wal-Mart. Right now I just like going to school and being with the kids. It’s so rewarding when you see that “aha” moment happen. You can just see it in their faces.”