Winona Middle School orchestra students muted their strings and set down their bows Thursday, when WMS and fourth grade orchestra teacher Lori Carlson was surprised with the news that she had been named Winona Education Association (WEA) 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year.
Carlson, in her 11th year teaching at Winona Area Public Schools, said the news came as a "total surprise." To rounds of applause from students, WEA members and former teachers of the year, Carlson accepted a plaque, flowers, a balloon, and a scarf from New York.
"It's a big honor," said Carlson. "I love teaching, and I couldn't do what I do without all the support of other teachers as well."
As her students continued preparing for an upcoming concert with a rehearsal of "Dance of the Tumblers," Carlson took a moment for hugs and congratulations from her colleagues. WEA representative and WAPS teacher Luke Merchlewitz said Carlson shows a passion for teaching and is incredibly involved with her students, and that her work truly makes kids shine.
"I love music and I love being able to share that with young people," she wrote in response to a nomination letter for Teacher of the Year. "I appreciate that I am helping them develop skills, discipline, and supportive relationships within the orchestra. But I am most passionate about helping them develop musical language, a powerful avenue for thought and expression—and so, a powerful avenue for connecting to self and others. I believe that personal power comes through empowering others. I can do that through teaching music, and I have always loved how this is modeled and experienced within the orchestra itself."
Carlson, a violist, has been a string instrument instructor and a member or contract performer with local orchestras and performing groups in the Winona and La Crosse area. She has served on various district committees and has been a representative, speaker, and panelist at a host of regional and state music organizations and events. At WAPS, she teaches fourth grade orchestra and Middle School orchestra. Fourth grade orchestra has, in recent years, been on the chopping block as district leaders pondered potential budget reductions, although the school board ultimately sustained the program.
When asked what message she would like to share with the Winona community on behalf of public school teachers, Carlson answered:
"Public school teachers work very hard and are expected to fulfill a seemingly increasing number of roles. But their number one role is to educate. In that role, they should be regarded as the experts, and yet supported through healthy collaboration with parents and community members. I look for conversations that value the connections between strong knowledge in content area and freedom to make our own teaching a sort of art that can be creative and responsive to the students we teach, versus something imposed upon us too far from the outside. Policy maker-uppers can't educate our Winona children. It is truly up to the teachers and the supportive connections they have to their teaching peers, to the parents of their students, and to the wider community. Ideally, within our schools and our community, we don't have to take sides when it comes to education. We care enough to work together to improve the education and experience of our students. Strong education that empowers our young people is a community-wide investment. It matters to every child that their family and their community cares and is involved in supporting their public education."