“Kindergarten is so full of firsts—the first time for hot lunch, the first time they get to read a book on their own, the first time they tie their shoes. I see them come in as little preschoolers, but they leave as first-graders. And I get to experience that over and over again.” —Sara Quinn, kindergarten teacher, Providence Academy
When the last school bell rings at West Lutheran High School, Mrs. Sharon Gieseke has no intention of booking it for the parking lot. In fact, on any given day, you can find her in the classroom for at least another hour, offering drop-in math help for students.
“So many kids struggle with math, but every student can learn it. Someone just has to figure out how to teach them,” the high school math teacher says. “That’s why I signed up to be a teacher. That’s why I’m here.”
It’s this devoted attitude that has earned Gieseke recognition for being a “top teacher” in Plymouth. She’s been at West Lutheran since the school opened in 1979. (The first five years of her career were spent teaching at a public high school in Pine City, followed by two years at Montgomery High School). Thirty-five years later, she’s still loving it; she says the students amaze her every day.
“About four years ago, one boy—a freshman—started thanking me after each class. The next day it continued. Now other classes have fallen into this,” Gieseke says with a smile. “The students are so respectful—it’s an honor to be their teacher.”
After working with younger students for several years, Nathan Veach was ready to take on the challenge of teaching (cue dramatic music) teenagers in high school. This West Lutheran teacher got advice from what seemed like everyone—and not the kind he wanted to hear. “I got the ‘just wait’ line from folks when I told them I’d be moving to high school,” Veach says.
But it’s how this top teacher took the advice in stride that makes him so great. “Now I tell people that teaching high school has its blessings and challenges,” he says. “For example, I can have intellectual discussions about things like history and government.”
Veach has a full plate. When he’s not in the classroom teaching religion, world history, senior political science and PSEO college-level world history, he’s on the field coaching football. This father of three even has taught his own children.
“The greatest lessons outside of the classroom can be taught on the football field,” Veach says. “We help develop young men. We model leadership and sportsmanship—we battle through adversity.”
Veach is now in his 23rd year of teaching and looks forward to the next 23 years. “You never know how these young people will impact society,” he says. “It’s so humbling; we’re passing the baton off to them.”
Sara Quinn knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was a little girl, but what solidified the career for her was advice from her grandfather.
“He was a World War II vet, a stoic guy,” says Quinn, now a kindergarten teacher at Providence Academy. “When I was a young teen, teaching swimming lessons and Sunday school, he looked at me and told me I had the passion to be a teacher. I knew he was right.”
And now in her seventh year at Providence, that passion is palpable. “Kindergarten is so full of firsts,” she says. “The first time for hot lunch, the first time they get to read a book on their own, manage a page of math problems, the first time they tie their shoes. I see them come in as little preschoolers, but they leave as first-graders. And I get to experience that over and over again.”