Winona Senior High School English teacher Theresa Pearson admires her gift after being announced as the 2019 Winona Education Association Teacher of the Year on Tuesday.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
As Theresa Pearson wrote notes on the board in her second-floor English classroom at Winona Senior High School (WSHS), a group of teachers slowly snuck into her class. After a moment, she turned around to see cameras, a bouquet of flowers, balloons, her husband and son, and a dozen fellow Winona Education Association (WEA) members applauding.
“No way,” she said in disbelief.
On Tuesday morning, WEA honored Pearson with its 2019 Teacher of the Year award, an award given based upon a teacher’s ability to engage positively and “go beyond in service to students, families and the district.” Pearson, a 22-year veteran of Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS), said she was overwhelmed by the distinction. “I’m honored to represent the [WEA],” she said.
After graduating from Winona State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in English literature with a writing emphasis, as well as a teaching secondary education degree, Pearson began student teaching at WSHS with her mentor, Doris Jensen. This set off her decades-long journey in the district, and she went on to earn her Master’s of teaching education and specialized in AP-level instruction. Today, she is one of the veterans of the department and helps guide new introductions into the curriculum.
During her tenure, she has taught nearly every class offered in the curriculum, save for a creative writing course that is a fellow educator’s “specialty.” Now, she teaches honors English, AP literature, language and composition, research writing for college-bound seniors and a multicultural literature course, among others. “I guarantee [students] will be able to phone in an essay in their sleep after finishing my writing course,” she said.
On top of coursework, Pearson is an active part of both the WAPS’ community and the Winona community at large. She has volunteered for numerous school organizations, including the school newspaper, NHS council, served as the Laws of Life essay liaison and led the first group of high school ambassadors to Misato, Japan, while continuing to help grow the ambassadorship over the years. She also travels to Carleton College every year for the AP Summer Institutes to improve the district’s AP preparation, and she created a summer sports organization called “Freedom Sports” with her husband to help give upstart baseball players a chance to practice before moving on to the high school teams.
The list of accomplishments is seemingly endless, but the focus has never changed: it has always been about the kids. For Pearson, the students are the easiest part of her job, and the best part of her day. She considers herself a “relationship-driven” teacher, and explained that she likes to be connected to each and every one of her students. For her, it’s more than just teaching the curriculum, but helping students acquire new skills and learn more about who they are as a person. “You have to see the students before you see the skill level. You have to find out what they do and don’t like in life, what their interests are. You have to see them for who they are, and not a name on a list or a number on a test,” Pearson said.
Figuring out that differentiation was one of her biggest challenges growing as a teacher, she explained. When she started, classes were smaller and more manageable, but learning to work with each student individually took some time. “I was still learning my trade and curriculum while I was teaching it, but I’m quicker on my feet now,” she said.
Since the beginning, Pearson has always been a student-focused educator. She met her husband Gene during college, who recalled her growth as a teacher over their 30-year relationship. “I have seen her transform from a young woman who wanted to interact with these kids, to someone who is a positive role model and truly thinks of these kids an extension of her own family,” he said.
Gene also noted that there are parts of being a teacher that people don’t always realize. “Every night, she takes a couple trips to the van to grab papers to grade. There are a lot of nights and weekends that people don’t realize go into this,” he explained.
According to Pearson, she expected her job to take plenty of work, but that has never stopped her. She knows that each person who she teaches deserves 100 percent, every day, so she gives them each her all. “This is what it means to be a teacher. To be a guide. To be a mentor. To strike a match in the dark,” she said. “It falls to me to build a relationship of trust, equality, and understanding with such precious little time.”