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O'Brien named Brainerd Teacher of the Year

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Brea O’Brien was humbled. Her students were ecstatic.

The Nisswa Elementary School K-1 multiage teacher learned Friday morning, Feb. 28, that she was the Brainerd School District Teacher of the Year, and that afternoon her class celebrated the honor with an ice cream party complete with strawberry and chocolate syrups.

“I teared up,” O’Brien said of the moment she and her 23 kindergarten and first-grade students learned of the award. “I felt incredibly honored and humbled at the same time.”

To be nominated with 27 other teachers was an honor, as was being interviewed with the other three finalists, O’Brien said. Four community members made up the selection committee that conducted interviews.

“It definitely warmed my heart more than anything,” she said, noting she doesn’t do her job for the recognition.

“I come in every day and do my job because it’s what I love,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien has taught the kindergarten/first-grade multiage class at Nisswa School for the past five years. For three years before that she was a Kinder Club teacher at Baxter Elementary School. And she taught kindergarten for one year at Nay ah Shing School in Onamia.

“I like being their first teacher, their first school experience,” O’Brien said of teaching kindergartners. “I just want to make it an experience they’ll never forget.”

Teaching two curriculums in one room makes for a busy day in O’Brien’s classroom. She likes having the same students as both kindergartners and first-graders.

“You really get to build a strong community and strong relationships with kids and parents as well,” she said.

Several people nominated O’Brien, including Mary Kempton, a former student teacher in O’Brien’s class.

“Managing a classroom full of kids is a lot of work, let alone a multiage classroom such as Brea’s,” Kempton wrote in her nomination letter. “Not only do you have two separate sets of curriculum to cover, but you have multiple skill sets and personalities, not only between the two grades, but also within each grade itself. Brea handled all of this with ease and made it look effortless, thus showing her love and passion for her career and, most importantly, her students.”

Another parent, Kieran Moore, has had two children in O’Brien’s class.

“What impresses me most about Mrs. O’Brien is her unrelenting commitment to innovate her teaching practice,” Moore wrote in a nomination letter. “She possesses a keen sense of knowing when a lesson plan is working and when it is not, and she’s quick to refine and hone her approach to improve the outcome for her students.”

Parent Crystal Patnoe wrote, “She is, hands down, one of the most caring, patient, and fun teachers I have met.”

Another parent, Ryan Cerney, wrote: “She wears her heart on her sleeve, which shows her strong passion for her multiage students.”

Nisswa Principal Erin Herman said, “Brea O’Brien is a most deserving recipient of the 2014 Teacher of the Year. She gives it her all each and every day to provide developmentally appropriate programming to a range of kindergarten and first-grade multiagers. From the very start of her time at Nisswa she has created a warm and nurturing learning environment for children to thrive.”

O’Brien and her husband, Patrick, have two boys, ages 10 and 13, and expect their third child in July. While she will stay home in September, O’Brien plans to return to her multiage classroom in October.

Nancy Vogt can be reached at Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @PEJ_Nancy.