Teacher of year follows tradition of inspiration

  • Article by: MIKE MEYERS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 5, 2008 - 12:05 AM

Carleen Gulstad, Minnesota's Teacher of the Year, encourages her students in Hopkins to use critical thinking skills.

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Carleen Gulstad of Hopkins North Junior High School is Minnesota's teacher of the year.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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When English teacher Carleen Gulstad was a girl, her older brother, Cedric, sparked her imagination. "Cedric made sure I knew of Narnia, Beethoven's wild hair and symphonies," she wrote in an autobiographical essay.

He also introduced his sister to lesser icons, including "Star Wars" and the Macintosh Classic.

On Sunday, Cedric was not among the 450 who applauded Gulstad's recognition as Minnesota Teacher of the Year. Cedric, 13 years Gulstad's senior, was a troubled young man who committed suicide when Gulstad was 15.

"I'm a teacher because of him," Gulstad, 36, said after the 44th Education Minnesota awards program at the Northland Inn in Brooklyn Park.

"He was my inspiration."

By all accounts, that inspiration has taken her far.

"Carleen has the courage to lead discussions focusing on racial identity, religious affiliations, cultural/ethnic customs, family membership," Pat Schmidt, Gulstad's school principal, wrote in a letter of recommendation.

Gulstad said teaching students to sharpen their reading skills is not enough in a world awash in information, from millions of sites on the Internet to hundreds of channels on television.

"I teach them critical thinking," she said. "They need to decide for themselves."

When her students get a reading assignment, Gulstad encourages them to dissect the difference between style and substance, fact and fantasy, she said.

A graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., Gulstad also holds a master's degree from St. Mary's University. She has taught eighth- and ninth-graders at Hopkins North Junior High School since 1999.

In addition to $3,000, Gulstad's award includes a global satellite navigation system valued at $350 and a weekend at the Northland Inn, valued at $500.

Gulstad's recognition also benefits Hopkins North Junior High and the community of Hopkins.

The honor includes $17,000 in teaching technology for her school and a community scholarship, valued at $3,000, for use toward enrollment in an executive education program at Harvard University.

The annual teacher awards are financed by Education Minnesota, the SMARTer Kids Foundation, the Northland Inn and Conference Center, the Harvard Club of Minnesota Foundation, the United Educators Credit Union, McDonald's Restaurants of Minnesota, Teacher Federal Credit Union, Pearson's Education and Education Minnesota ESI.

Mike Meyers • 612-673-1746

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