A third-generation teacher inspired by a grandmother who maintained that teaching is “a calling that can save lives” was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year on Sunday.
Thomas Rademacher, who teaches high school English at the Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resources (FAIR) School in downtown Minneapolis, won a $6,000 prize, and will be a teacher ambassador spreading his approach around the state during the next year.
After the ceremony, Rademacher, 32, spent a few minutes calming his upset 3-year-old daughter, who thought the award meant he was going away. His wife, Laura, a family therapist, said she was surprised when he was chosen from the 10 finalists sitting with him on the dais, because “all the teachers up there are amazing. I’m biased, so I think Tom is amazing too.”
The annual award is sponsored by Education Minnesota, the 70,000-member teachers’ union, and is open to prekindergarten through 12th-grade teachers in Minnesota public, private and parochial schools. Peers, students and others nominated 128 candidates in 2014, the program’s 50th year. In that time, four Minnesota teachers have gone on to win National Teacher of the Year, more than any other state except California. The last Minnesotan to win the national title was in 1996.
Accepting the award before a ballroom full of teachers and guests in a Bloomington hotel, Rademacher said educators face tough challenges, “but the solutions are in front of us. They are already happening in Minnesota classrooms. My work is to learn from these teachers, tell their stories, be inspired by them and replicate their successes.”
Rademacher, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota, has taught at the FAIR School, which also has a campus in Crystal, for eight years. The school is part of the West Metro Education Program.
He was nominated by one of his students, Asyana Eddy, who wrote: “Mr. Rademacher will do anything in his power to help his students succeed. He gives us the freedom to approach his subjects in the most creative ways possible, he teaches us that our thoughts matter, and that we are capable of anything we want to do with our lives.”
Rademacher said he was inspired by his mother and grandmother, both teachers. He said in an interview that his grandmother was right in telling him teaching is “a job and a calling that saves lives.” He said that, like her, he has had students tell him, “If not for you I wouldn’t be here now.” He said one student recently celebrated a second year since her last suicide attempt.
Rademacher said he likes teaching English and literature because “the ideas behind the literature we read help kids figure out what you are going to do in the world and how to address things that are right and wrong; questions of race, gender and poverty and how that affects people in the world.”
He said his message as a teacher ambassador in the coming year will be cooperating with anyone interested in education to make it better. He said he learned from a staff shake-up in his West Metro program a few years ago. It created a division within fellow teachers that he tried to heal by inviting 10 teachers with differing opinions to his home for enchiladas.
“It took some coaxing and some awkward silences but the conversation turned positive and all of us began to recognize that what we were doing was far too important to not use the brains and passion around us, that lock-step agreement was not a requirement for progress,” Rademacher wrote in his Teacher of the Year application.
He said a union leadership team was formed that night that focuses on their many shared goals, not the few things on which they disagree. Some team members were present at the ceremony Sunday, including another finalist, Gretchen Reed, who teaches choir at the downtown FAIR School.
This year’s finalists, in addition to Rademacher and Reed, were Emily Anderson of Blaine High School; Terrace (Terri) Evans of Champlin Park High School; Lora Hill of Winona Senior High School; Kim Jirik of Crystal Lake Education Center; Billy Koenig of Shakopee Senior High School; Charlotte Landreau of St. Paul Highland Park Senior High School; Virginia Mancini of Mahtomedi High School, and Kathryn Kim Westra of Salem Hills Elementary School.