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Longtime Westside teacher is tops

Karen Paulson, an icon at Westside Elementary School in West Fargo, was named the West Fargo School Districts Teacher of the Year for 2006 at a ceremony held at South Elementary during in-service sessions Monday afternoon.

Paulson has been a first-grade teacher at Westside for 26 years.

Its unbelievable, and very exciting, she said after she accepted the award. I saw one of the teachers from our first-grade team here who is on maternity leave, and I asked her what she was doing here. She said that she heard the winner (of Teacher of the Year) was from Westside and that she really wanted to be here. It kind of made things a little scarier, but I thought there are so many teachers from our school more deserving of this than me. But Im just honored, Paulson said.

The north Fargo resident, who moved from Moorhead to the West Fargo School District back in the early 1980s, was credited for keeping things new and exciting in her classroom, and for her enthusiasm.

Shes so energetic, dynamic and creative, Louise Dardis, assistant superintendent of West Fargo schools, said, reading from the nomination forms. She actively looks for new ways to reach her students. Shes empathetic, and is willing to go the extra mile for her kids.

Paulson was nominated by her fellow first grade teachers at Westside, including friend and colleague Verna Rasmussen, who was one of the first to receive a hug from an overwhelmed Paulson.

However, the days guest of honor almost wasnt present during this in-service day. She woke up with a 102-degree temperature and a sore throat.

I kind of thought about not coming, but I thought Id better go because they dont like it so much when you miss the in-service days. You get a little bit behind. So Im here, Tylenol and all, and its definitely worth it.

Among those there to congratulate Paulson where her parents, Bob and Doris Jean Erickson, and her husband, Terry.

Paulson said shes glad to teach first-graders, a group that is still excited about learning.

Theyre happy to be in school. They love it. And they love their teachers. And theyre still smaller than I am, Paulson, who stands barely above 5-feet tall, said. I wouldnt trade it or change it for anything. I cant imagine going to an office job where its the same every day. I am so lucky to do what I do.

Her colleagues recognized Paulson for some of her antics in the classroom, which keeps much of the school on its toes.

Im not beyond pulling a couple of pranks, she said. Ill pop into another classroom with a furry spider and then the spider will pop up somewhere else. It definitely gets peoples attention.

With attention spans sometimes in short supply, Paulson said its her job to keep things new and exciting, and she tackles that challenge each new year.

Its a question of what can I do this year to make things even better than they were last year, she said. How can I make things exciting each day for them?

While doing that, her fellow teachers said, Paulson never loses sight of the overall goal of teaching her kids important new lessons to continue their educations, the nomination form said.

The panel for Teacher of the Year selection consists of two West Fargo administrators in Dardis and Cheney Middle School Rob Kaspari; along with the past three winners of the award.

Deb Tietz of the middle school earned the award in 2003, while science teacher Joan Baltezore won it in 2004. Last years winner was REACH teacher Jolene Beckman-Sternhagen.

Paulson will now represent the West Fargo School District at the State Teacher of the Year Award competition later this year.