“Teaching is a hoot.”
That’s how Prairie View Elementary School teacher Nate Gabel’s describes his work, even after two years of COVID-19, hybrid learning, online classes and figuring out how to make it all work.
That attitude probably explains why he is one of three Eden Prairie Schools’ teachers that have been nominated for Education Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year honors.
The two others, Kassy Miller and Emily Larson, both teach at Central Middle School.
Nate Gabel has taught at Prairie View for 23 years. During that time he has taught 4th grade, served as a cognitive coach, and since 2013 has taught in the 5th grade Mosaic gifted program.
Teaching is a “hoot,” he said, because “you get to learn about kids and their unique traits that make them who they are and how they learn best. You get to plant seeds in kids that we all hope will blossom into the amazing people that they can be.”
“Through challenge we succeed,” is how Gabel described his teaching philosophy.
“An anonymous poem describes the flow of a classroom from the beginning of the year to the finish line of the year,” he said. “’We meet awkwardly. We learn to walk. I discover you dancing.’
“Those words are what I hope to see in my kids,” he continued. “That as we move through our year together, we get to know each other, that the learning and training we do together is meaningful and lifelong, that at the end of our year we get to celebrate a successful year in one crazy, happy dance.”
Before he came to Eden Prairie, Gabel taught 2nd grade in Fairfax County Public Schools.
Gabel is an avid cyclist, enjoys travel and being in the outdoors biking, skiing, camping and hiking. He is also a singer.
All of those activities he enjoys doing with his family, which includes wife, Kristin, a biology teacher at Eden Prairie High School, and two children, one attending Michigan Tech University and another who attends St. Louis Park High School.
“Teaching during this time has affirmed how important relationships are as well as the need for flexibility,” she said. “I have learned that being a constant for my students and giving them whatever it is that they need on a day-to-day basis is so important during a time filled with so much uncertainty.”
Being a special education teacher during two years of COVID-19 has challenges all its own. Emily Larson has tried to use a difficult time to become a touchstone for her students.
Larson teaches students in grades 6-8 in CMS’ Setting 3 program for students who spend much of their school day in a special education classroom. She has taught there for two years. Previously, she taught for four years in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“I have loved working in Eden Prairie and being part of an amazing group of educators who lift students up and go above and beyond to help students succeed,” she said. “I believe my role is to prepare each of my students for an ever-changing world.
“I believe each of my students (is) unique and capable of learning. My role is to meet my students where they are at and to facilitate their learning and make it relatable to their lives.”
Larson and her husband, Ethan, have a 2-year-old daughter, Elliot.
She enjoys spending time with her family, gardening, do-it-yourself projects and spending time at the lake.
“Is it cheesy to say that I enjoy everything about teaching in EP?” Kassy Miller answered when asked what she enjoyed most about being an educator in Eden Prairie schools.
Or maybe not, if you’ve been doing it for 25 years – and it’s the only place you’ve ever taught. “That says something, right?” she asked.
Miller currently teaches 6th grade reading at Central Middle School (CMS). She started out at what is now Oak Point Elementary School, taught 5th grade EP Online last year, and is now in her first year at CMS.
“I’ve been really lucky to work with amazing teachers,” she said. “The teams I’ve been on have been incredible. I always feel valued and supported. And the kids are the best! I absolutely love 5th and 6th graders. Yes, they can be sassy at times, but they never fail to crack me up.”
Explaining her teaching philosophy isn’t easy to do in a paragraph, she admits. “But I can tell you that I want my kids to enjoy walking into my classroom. That’s the first hurdle,” she said. “They need to want to come and then they need to want to stay.”
She wants her students to do well, “but more importantly, our kids need to be loved, supported, and cared for,” she said. “Each day I remind myself of this quote: ‘Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about’… I have shifted to putting kindness and compassion into the forefront. The curriculum guide or pacing of content no longer guides me, the kids do.”
Miller lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Brad, and 15-year-old daughter, Lila, who is a freshman at Washburn High School.
“I absolutely love the outdoors and I love living in the city,” she said. “I spend a lot of time biking or walking around the lakes. I don’t care what the weather is like. You will always see me around one of the city lakes all year long.”
The Minnesota Teacher of the Year program is in its 58th year. This year’s field of nominees consists of 77 teachers from across the state. The Minnesota Teacher of the Year banquet is scheduled for May 1 in St. Paul.