A Lifelong Dream

West Fargo educator Nanci Dauwen is Teacher of the Year

By Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications Director

For Nanci Dauwen, an algebra teacher at Sheyenne High School in West Fargo, this profession is all she’s ever wanted to do. “For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a teacher,” Duawen said. “As children, my sister and I would play school for hours, and often include our neighborhood friends. … The very best part for me would be when I would get to be teacher. I would get to write with THE red pen and sit in the front desk. But most importantly, I would get to help my students.”

Nanci Dauwen, algebra teacher at Sheyenne High School in West Fargo, and the 2017 North Dakota Teacher of the Year

The childhood dream of becoming a teacher probably never included winning the prestigious North Dakota Teacher of the Year award, but that is the new reality for Dauwen. On Sept. 28, at a ceremony in the gymnasium at Sheyenne, Dauwen was given the 2017 award as the state’s top teacher by Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler.

“We know that what happens in this school, and what happens to you, is all about the teachers you have,” Gov. Dalrymple in introducing the crowd to Dauwen and the three finalists for this year’s award, Curtis Kjelland of Valley City, Jennifer Kujanson of Fargo, and Kristi Mahrer of Wahpeton. “And that is the reason why we want to all be together for this moment, to recognize and thank our teachers for their dedication to education excellence.”

Dauwen receives her award as a finalist for Teacher of the Year at a ceremony that was held in the gymnasium of Sheyenne High School in West Fargo.

Dauwen has taught mathematics in West Fargo since 2005, and taught in Fargo and Jamestown before that. She has worked as a teacher for 28 years, and has been a member of North Dakota United since she started.

“This is my 29th year as a member,” Dauwen said. “I think I might have joined the student organization my senior year of college. But I think that’s really important to be able to share ideas with other colleagues, and that there’s support available if you need it.”

In addition, Dauwen was the 2016–17 Professional Staff Member of the Year award winner for West Fargo Public Schools.

Dauwen in her classroom at Sheyenne High School, teaching students the fine points of algebra.

“We are here in the presence, today, of many great teachers,” Baesler said in her remarks at the award ceremony. “To honor a person who has been chosen as one of the very best teachers in North Dakota. We are here to celebrate her as our 27th North Dakota Teacher of the Year.

“What I’ve learned about Mrs. Dauwen is that she prepares you, as students, to be ready for any path you choose after high school. She prepares you to be ready for college or technical school, or possibly to enter the work force or military, immediately. But whatever you prepare to do, she works to prepare you for that choice.”

Dauwen is shown at Sheyenne High School with the North Dakota United traveling trophy for Teacher of the Year.

Dauwen said she is thankful for the support she has received as an educator, from everyone around her. “I also give a great deal of credit to those teachers who have served as amazing role models in my life,” Dauwen said. “It was easy to see their passion for education, but most importantly, their passion for their students. They cared, they pushed and they made a difference. I strived to be like them.”

She additionally thanks the students she has taught over her years in the profession. “I have always believed that when you have built relationships with students, they will care and will want to learn,” she said. “They will want to do well. Once the relationship is built, the curriculum is generally the easy part!”

Dauwen listed suicide prevention as her primary cause to pursue during her tenure as Teacher of the Year. She was inspired to make that decision by the tragic death by suicide of a student at Sheyenne this past year. “I watched as my daughter and her friends struggled with the loss,” Dauwen said. “I watched as our staff, including me, struggled with the loss. ‘WHY?’ The question that just can’t be answered for u. We had no idea that this young man was fighting a serious battle. What can we do?”

“I’m very lucky to know all of you, and I thank you for believing in me. Most of all, I thank you for supporting me. I will try my best to represent you as North Dakota Teacher of the Year.” — Nanci Dauwen, 2017 N.D. Teacher of the Year

“It will take us a great time to heal, but I am very glad that we have each other,” she said about all of the teachers and education support professionals in West Fargo. “We are supporting one another and our students. The purple bands that the family bought for our staff and students say, ‘Stop. Listen. Talk.’ I hope we as teachers and staff can follow this message and help our students to do the same.”

Dauwen helping students in her classroom at Sheyenne High School in West Fargo.

She ended her remarks at the ceremony by quoting the song, “For Good,” from the musical, “Wicked.” “My favorite song finishes up by saying this: ‘Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I’ve been changed for the good.’ I’m very lucky to know all of you, and I thank you for believing in me. Most of all, I thank you for supporting me. I will try my best to represent you as North Dakota Teacher of the Year.”