The Winona Education Association 2020 Teacher of the Year, Kristi Conway, left, was surprised on Friday with the recognition. Outgoing Teacher of the Year Theresa Pearson, right, announced the award.
by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Kristi Conway, a second-grade teacher at Washington Kosciusko Elementary, said she enjoys “being able to see every day through the lens of a child” as she reflected on her experiences with teaching after winning the 2020 Winona Education Association (WEA) Teacher of the Year award on Friday in a surprise announcement during a school assembly.
“She has a heart for children, and eagerly approaches each day with a calm, joyful disposition, said Lisa Kulzer, a kindergarten teacher at Washington Kosciusko who nominated Conway for the award. “She has a wonderful sense of humor. Mrs. Conway is happy to help others and she is a lifelong learner who strives to be the best that she can be.”
Conway has been teaching for 30 years. She began her career as a reading tutor for the educational research department at Gundersen Clinic, then taught kindergarten and a second and third grade combination classroom in California for four years before teaching for Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS). She has been with WAPS for 25 years now and has taught kindergarten, as well as first and second grade.
Theresa Pearson, the 2019 Teacher of the Year, said during the announcement of the award that she had heard from students that Conway is helpful and makes math fun.
Conway shared that she appreciates teaching second graders because she feels they are at a particularly unique stage of growth. “They are starting to become more independent, yet they still rely on you as someone to help them in decision making,” Conway explained.
She noted that she aims to help her students be happy and enjoy childhood.
She shared that bonds with students and fellow teachers have become an integral part of her life. She said she feels WAPS’ teachers are dedicated and hard-working and added that she thinks they are striving to achieve success for students. “It could have been any one of us,” she said of the Teacher of the Year recognition.
Conway noted that she became a teacher because she has enjoyed school since attending it while growing up. She added that her small class of 13 students provided for an intimate and close-knit setting. “I felt a great sense of belonging,” Conway said of school, “and I decided that’s where I wanted to spend my adult life as well.”
Conway said she would tell aspiring teachers to be prepared to work hard. “Whether it’s your first year or your 30th year as a teacher, it doesn’t get easier,” Conway said, “so you have to have a love for it.”
She stated that her students give her perspective on what is important in life and lift her up each day. “I hope I do the same for them,” Conway said.