Longtime educator Chris Palmer was recently named Pequot Lakes’ 2020 Teacher of the Year.

She found out she had won the award in a different manner than past winners. While most have been surprised with the announcement in class, the premature closing of schools meant Palmer had to find out via email, but she read plenty of congratulatory emails from staff members before stumbling upon the actual announcement.

“I definitely was surprised,” she said. “I did not think, by any means, that I was going to be Teacher of the Year. I just felt like there were so many of these teachers who are just really exceptional teachers and I just thought any one of them could have received it, because they all do wonderful things in their classrooms.”

Palmer may have one of the more unique job descriptions in the district, serving as both a Spanish teacher and a school counselor. In fact, she started in the district as a full-time counselor at the middle-school level before splitting time between Spanish and counseling, and at times teaching Spanish full time.

“It has kind of been an odd trip, but I do feel that it has been such a variety that time has flown by,” Palmer said.

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The Elk River native considered a career in education after spending the summer of 1982 as an exchange student in Kenya, living with a family that had no water or electricity. That experience inspired her to host exchange students of her own throughout the years.

“When I got home after that summer, I thought, 'I really like learning about other cultures and languages,’ and I love traveling and I would like to do something with language,” she said. “Originally, I thought I would go into photography or social work, or maybe be a police officer.”

After ultimately deciding on a career in Spanish education, Palmer had the opportunity to study in Spain for five months. After earning her degree, she worked in Cambridge, Anoka and Brainerd before settling in at Pequot Lakes.

Since then, she has worked at both the middle and high school levels, both as a teacher and a counselor. She also spearheads the Spanish Club’s trip to Costa Rica every year, with the next trip planned for the summer of 2021.

“I just love to take the students on this trip,” Palmer said. “I feel like they learn and grow so much because they are learning about another culture … There are so many who have said it was the best week of their lives, I think because they experience so much adventure and culture, and at the same time have a ton of fun with their friends. I also feel like they mature on the trip, because they have to learn to do things on their own.”

She described being Teacher of the Year as an honor, and said it was nice to have all of the well wishes and messages of congratulations pour in from her co-workers.

“I think I've always been a really hard worker and I've tried to be creative in the classroom,” Palmer said. “I'm very eclectic in what I do, and so I've always felt like I continually look for new ideas and try to stay up with what's going on in the world of teaching a language.

“There are so many teachers in the building that have just been amazing mentors. I feel like I have learned so much from my colleagues … I'm really honored to have the award, and I'll continue to work hard for the district.”

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.