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Great expectations: Teacher of the Year candidate Andrea Kleoppel relishes her work

Oltman Middle School teacher Andrea Kleoppel helps to lead a Raider Rally at the school Feb. 12. Kleoppel, who teaches seventh grade history, has been nominated as Minnesota Teacher of the Year.1 / 2
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She may have been nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year, but Andrea Kleoppel measures success in other ways.

“I feel like I made it when a parent emails me and says, ‘My child can’t stop talking about your class.’ I’m like, ‘Yes! I made the dinner table!’” Kleoppel said. “That means everything to me, if I made it to their dinner table discussion.”

Kleoppel, 34, is one of four South Washington County Schools teachers in the running for Minnesota Teacher of the Year. The 114 nominees from across the state were announced Feb. 3 by Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union.

The 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be announced May 15. Kleoppel said she’s “honored, really honored” to be in the running. Other District 833 nominees include Wes Bolin, social studies teacher at Woodbury High School; Linda Pieper, third-grade teacher at Middleton Elementary; and Kaarin Schumacher, science teacher at Woodbury High School.

Kleoppel teaches seventh-grade American history at Oltman Middle School. But her contributions extend well World Wars and presidents, Oltman Principal Rebecca Schroeder said. Kleoppel is among those who helped Oltman earn the title of National Avid Demonstration School. And when the district distributed iPads at Oltman as part of a technology initiative in 2012, it was Kleoppel who helped students, teachers and some parents learn how to use the mobile devices as an instructional classroom tool.

“Andrea’s presentation skills are outstanding, and when she presents at local conferences about instructional technology and using specific strategies, she shows others how technology can transform their teaching and student learning,” Schroeder wrote in a letter of recommendation that was part of the nomination process.

Kleoppel said she was keen on proving that technology need not be a distraction.

“It’s a passion of mine,” she said. “I really think that especially at the middle school level, using technology we have so many opportunities to teach kids about using technology and being that digital citizen appropriately. So many things come up with technology on a daily basis that’s negative. I have the opportunity to show my kids how to use that technology to learn and to create.”

For a lesson on the Great Depression that followed the stock market crash of 1929, Kleoppel had the students experience their own Black Friday by having them make simulated stock trades on their iPads. She left it to them to decide what stocks to buy, be it shares of Ford, AT&T or others.

“They had to buy whatever stocks they thought were going to do well,” she said. “They got really into it. They were winning money and losing money.”

Eleven days into the lesson, she crashed the market.

“They had no idea this was coming,” she said. “They said, ‘I had no idea this was coming. Why didn’t I sell?’”

Early role model

Her father, Dennis Getzlaff, was her first teacher role model. He taught high school and also coached the Golden Bears basketball team at Concordia University. She ended up marrying one of his players, Ben Kleoppel. Her brother, Kent Getzlaff, teaches social studies and coaches basketball at Woodbury High School.

“We grew up having that model for us,” Kleoppel said. “Just seeing the impact that my dad had on high school students and the impact of coach and how that would drive his players and students. I think that’s the best part of being a teacher and hoping that the impact that I have on them carries beyond middle school and beyond high school.”

She graduated Park High School in 1999, where one of her inspirations was social studies teacher Todd Hyland.

“When I heard that she was up for this award it was not even a surprise to me,” said Hyland, who now teaches economics at Park. “That’s just a logical nomination. If I had to pick some people in the district that the nomination should go to, she’s right at the top of the list. She’s more than just a quality educator, she’s a quality person.

“She challenges herself to get better,” Hyland continued. “I think that was ingrained in her from her family. You strive for excellence that what she expects out of her student and she expects it out of herself. I think that comes through to her students.”

Kleoppel’s first teaching assignment was a summer school class at Central High School in St. Paul.

“Being 22 and thrown into a summer school program for students who have failed, ‘overwhelming’ couldn't describe my feelings,” she said.

She went on to teach at Woodbury and Park high schools. She and Ben have three children. Laney, 8, and Lucy, 7, attend Grey Cloud Elementary School. Son Grady, 2, is already learning how to shoot hoops like his father.

Engaging with middle school students can be a tough teaching assignment, but Kleoppel enjoys the challenge and said she doesn’t think she would go back to teaching high school.

“Every day the students come in, I have a different kid,” she said. “They’re biochemically changing on a daily basis. I try to really get to know my students. When I know them and they know me and they trust me, I can get them to do work and accomplish so much more.”

But she’s not angling to win any popularity contests.

“I’m extremely strict,” she said. “I have extremely high expectations. I model those from day one.

I show them. It’s as simple as ‘day one, we’re here to be students. My expectations at school might be quite different than the expectations at home.’”

Leading by example

Last year, Kleoppel returned from a teaching conference with an idea for principal Schroeder: stage a monthly rally in the gym to generate school spirit and get students and teachers excited about their shared sense of mission.

The latest of what would become the Raider Rally took place Feb. 12, with music from the band and bleachers full of students and teachers. The rallies mix motivation, mission and music. They also recognize academic and volunteer achievements on the part of students and teachers.

There’s also a personal or videotaped appearance by a former student who talks about their experience at Oltman.

Last week’s rally was a bracing exercise in controlled pandemonium, with spectators doing the wave and cheering an acrobatic dance performance by students Avria Lindbom and Faith McKenzie. Teachers got to show off their own moves in a talent contest where they lip-synced to songs by Michael Jackson and other pop stars. In keeping with the rally’s theme, leadership, Kleoppel told students to lead by example.

Actions speak louder than words, she said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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