Pine River-Backus teacher Linda Henkel has been teaching long enough that she's earned recognition, including the PR-B Teacher of the Year honor three times now.
The most recent honor came just this month.
After teaching for 47 years with the district, Henkel has taught many students. She's now getting children of former students.
"She is so deserving of this award," said Tessa Caird, former student and now parent. "She was one of my teachers years ago when I was in school and she has my fourth grader now. With the way school has gone, I think she has adjusted so well to the new way of learning. My fourth grader loves her class."
"Linda has dedicated her life to teaching, and that's not an exaggeration. That's reality."
— retired teacher Susan TeHennepe.
Henkel is also renowned among her fellow teachers, who know she's one to go above and beyond what's expected of her.
"Linda has dedicated her life to teaching, and that's not an exaggeration. That's reality," said retired teacher Susan TeHennepe. "During the summer you can find Linda taking classes and webinars, researching reading interventions or buying children's books. I think there's nothing that makes her happier than putting books in the hands of children."
TeHennepe said before COVID-19, it wasn't uncommon for Henkel to spend her free time driving to St. Cloud to attend professional development classes.
"She reads individually online with them once a week," Caird said. "I think she's made it so fun. She sends cards for every holiday and certificates for Dairy Queen. She is so sweet and caring and I feel she is making them feel like they are so special to her."
Perhaps that's why Henkel may be the only teacher in the district to have been named Teacher of the Year a total of three times. The first honor came in 2003, the second in 2010 and the third this year, 2021.
Of all years to win such a recognition, this year - when all teachers are teaching like never before - Henkel's peers saw her and decided she should once again hold the honor.
"Linda is such a selfless, hard-working, committed, joyful, light to our school. We miss seeing her everyday in the building!"
— Anonymous Teacher of the Year Nomination.
"Linda is (by far!) most deserving of Teacher of the Year!" the anonymous nomination read. "Look at all of the challenges she has had to overcome in the position she is in this year (distance learning)! I know how many new things Linda had to manage and learn, but she always has a smile on. And, in the midst of all the struggles with distance learning, she made sure to reach out and support other distance learning teachers. She even sent them all flowers one Monday wishing them a great week. Linda is such a selfless, hard-working, committed, joyful, light to our school. We miss seeing her everyday in the building!"
"I think for her to be able to learn the technology needed to do distance learning is just another credit to her," TeHennepe said.
Henkel admits it isn't always easy to keep up with technology. So this year, while she has been teaching PR-B students in grades three, four and six who chose to remain distance learning, has been anything but a cake walk.
"It was a very challenging experience," Henkel said. "You can't control what's in the computer. Is he doing his work? You don't know. Who did the work? In the classroom you can say, 'Johnny, once you're finished with that work, why don't you do your reflex now?' But at home I can't remind them. And at my age, the computer is a challenging tool."
But she has apparently never stopped doing her best to learn.
"I love working with children. I love planning and trying to solve their problems. What's causing them not to learn? How do you motivate children?"
— Linda Henkel.
This year, distributing materials has been a challenge. Some items have to be hand delivered to Henkel or to her students, adding a whole new layer to the challenge.
As for Henkel, she sees the work her coworkers are doing as well.
"They all could be Teacher of the Year," Henkel said. "It's a challenge to keep the kids away from each other and keep those masks on. That's a thing I haven't had to worry about being at home."
Like usual, that team of coworkers helped one another.
"It was like everything you hear in the news about kids and technology," Henkel said. "We felt that here too. There were problems with hotspots and those types of things. I had to learn a lot of new things. and Carla Goddard was a lifesaver for me, and other teachers too. Mrs. (Shianna) Hicks helped me. and anyone I asked for help was there to help me."
Henkel was almost destined to become a teacher. Her mother was a teacher, her aunts were teachers, her older sisters were teachers and she became a teacher.
"I love working with children. I love planning and trying to solve their problems," Henkel said. "What's causing them not to learn? How do you motivate children?"
She taught a year at Cologne, Minnesota, before coming to Pine River-Backus where she taught first grade for 17 years before moving on to teach Title I classes. TeHennepe pointed out that Henkel is also, coincidentally, the person who usually organizes such events as the teacher appreciation lunch every year as well as the Teacher of the Year award, so staff this year had to work in secret to give her the recognition.
"Like I said, all the teachers could have received Teacher of the Year, but now I'm honored," Henkel said.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.