Kayla Delzer, a third-grade teacher at Mapleton Elementary School and proud member of the Mapleton Education Association and North Dakota United, has been named the 2019 North Dakota Teacher of the Year.
“It is by far the most humbling experience that I’ve been a part of, and the biggest honor, by far,” Delzer said. “I really don’t have the words to how much it means to me. I’m so grateful for so many mentors and teachers and educators and teachers along the way, who have pushed me and supported me to get me to where I’m at right now. And the encouragement of my students, to help me be brave in my classroom and to try different things, that’s ultimately what this is all about is just to make education better for all the parents and families and teachers and kids in this state.”
Delzer received her award at a special ceremony held in Mapleton on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Also in attendance at the ceremony were two of her fellow finalists for the award: Sara Medalen of Minot and Annette Hovey of New Rockford-Sheyenne. The fourth finalist, Leslye Thiery of Grand Forks, was unable to attend due to a family event, but sent along a letter of congratulations that was read by Superintendent Kirsten Baesler.
Delzer has taught at Mapleton since 2016, and previously worked at West Fargo Public Schools and Thief River Falls, Minn. She has ten years of teaching experience, and has taught both second and third grade during her career. In addition to her work in the classroom, Delzer is an internationally recognized champion of technology, speaker, author and social media influencer. She has more than 105,000 followers on social media for her @topdogteaching accounts, and her blog, TopDogTeaching.com, is approaching 2 million views.
Gov. Doug Burgum has named Delzer as a member of the North Dakota Innovative Education Task Force, as well as a leader of the Teacher Preparation Committee. At the Mapleton ceremony, Burgum praised Delzer for her work at advancing the teaching profession into a new age. “She does a tremendous job of embracing technology and using innovative methods to empower and challenge her students,” he said, “instilling in them a love of lifelong learning and preparing them to succeed in a 21st Century economy.”
In her acceptance speech, Delzer thanked her fellow finalists for Teacher of the Year, and all teachers in our state. “To the teachers I work with every day, I admire you. Thank you for challenging me in all of the best ways. Your support, love, hugs and extra effort does not go unnoticed. Teaching is a team sport, and we are all on Team Kid.”
Delzer says she possesses such a passion for classroom teaching that, no matter what opportunities come her way as a speaker and advocate for education, she could never leave her job as a teacher. “Every single day, teachers are working miracles in their classrooms,” she said about teaching in small-town North Dakota, “and I think lots of times the miracles are muddled by yucky things that are happening. Just being able to shout out amazing things, whether it’s speaking at conferences or writing or blogging or interviews like this. If you give me a chance, I will talk about it.”
She hopes to use her platform at the state’s Teacher of the Year in 2019 to advocate for her profession, and to spread the word about the work that goes on in schools all across North Dakota. “I really do try to champion for teachers everywhere and how we have such an important job,” she said. “We’re really such role models for kids, and kids see everything and they notice everything that we’re doing. … Basically, if there is a platform that somebody will give me, I will shout out the praises of teachers and learning.”
Delzer tries to take a team approach to education, and she said she hopes to fit into our system of education wherever and however she can be the most help. And so, her membership in the National Education Association and North Dakota United has meant a lot to her because of the opportunities it gains her to network with her fellow teachers.
“Hands down, for me, it’s been the power of connection,” Delzer said. “I talk all the time about how teaching is a team sport and how really we can’t do it by ourselves. I could have all the resources and think I know everything about teaching, but I’m not going to be as good of a teacher as I could be if I’m not collaborating with other teachers. And so, for me, through NEA and North Dakota United, I’ve met inspirational teachers from across North Dakota that are doing amazing things in their classroom that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.”
Her best advice for educators is to share your lessons and successes with others in the field. “When you learn about something that’s best for kids or that’s right for kids, not to delay doing it but to just dive right in and try it right away,” she said. “You don’t always need to wait for the next school year to try something. If you know that it’s best practice, just start doing it the next day or the next week … or even try it with another teacher that you have support with.”
Delzer also recommends that teachers always remain willing to learn from their colleagues and from the students in their classrooms. “Everyone’s a teacher; everyone’s a learner,” she said, “I believe that to my core, as we’re doing Genius Hour and my kids are teaching me all sorts of things, ranging from beach martens to chameleons to coding. For me to be able to learn about that has been really awesome, just allowing my kids to be the teacher, whether it’s something that’s about their culture, (and) being able to highlight that and share that.”
And always keep in mind how lucky we all are to do what we do in public education. “There is no better job in the world than being an educator,” Delzer said, “and knowing that I see the product of my work every single day, through my kids. I know that I’m making the world a better place through them. There’s no better job than being an educator, there’s just not.”
- Article and photos by Kelly Hagen, ND United Communications. Video story by Tom Gerhardt, NDU Communications.