Sunday, October 2, 2022
OHS special education teacher Wendy Stephani is among 30 semifinalists for this year’s Minnesota Teacher of the Year. This is Stephani’s 10th year teaching at OHS and before that she taught at the junior high for 16 years.

OHS educator in Teacher of the Year pool

She is such an advocate for all students and will do whatever it takes to meet their needs.  Wendy is like a surgeon….she can diagnose any type of problem for a student, put a plan together for the student and perform interventions and supports to help the student get better. –Mark Randall, OHS principal

Owatonna High School Teacher Wendy Stephani has been chosen as one of the 30 semifinalists for this year’s Minnesota Teacher of the Year. 

A selection panel of 24 community leaders chose the semifinalists at the end of February from an initial field of 123 candidates from across the state. The candidates include teachers from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade from both private and public schools. 

“I was shocked. I got a letter in the mail and I set it down and read it again. To see your name on a list with 29 other teachers in the state was overwhelming,” Stephani said. “It is a humbling experience. It has been really uplifting for me to know that you just kind of do your job everyday and people think that what you do makes a difference. Sometimes you don’t always know that because people don’t take the time to tell you.” 

This is Stephani’s 10th year teaching at OHS as a special education teacher. Before that she worked at the junior high for another 16 years. This is not Stephani’s first time being nominated for Teacher of the Year. 

Stephani was previously nominated as the Teacher of the Year at OHS in 2012 and again while working at Waseca High School. 

Stephani recalled that she decided to be a teacher in the second or third grade. 

“It sort of just felt like a calling. I have always known and it has been a passion of mine. I have always known that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing,” Stephani said. 

She is originally from the Twin Cities area and graduated from Eisenhower High School in Hopkins, Minnesota. She then attended Winona State University where she pursued a degree in elementary education and special education. 

“It was somewhat of a new field and I liked the aspect of working in small groups and having an impact on kids more so than in a classroom setting,” she said. 

The majority of students Stephani works with have a learning disability of some kind, such as dyslexia, and struggle with math, reading or writing. Stephani really enjoys working with them to help them see their potential and making a difference in their lives. 

“I love coming here everyday and interacting with the kids. They usually put me in a good mood,” she said. 

Stephani added the most rewarding part of her job is, “Getting kids to believe in themselves again and helping them to become more independent. A lot of the kids that I work with come in feeling somewhat defeated and seeing that turnaround for them and getting them to see that learning is a good thing again and that school is possible for them.” 

The biggest challenge she has had to deal with during her career is budget cuts. 

“The toughest times are during budget cuts. You see fellow colleagues have to leave and you watch programs die that you believe in,” she said. 

OHS Principal Mark Randall didn’t know where to start when asked why Stephani was deserving of this award. 

“She is such an advocate for all students and will do whatever it takes to meet their needs.  Wendy is like a surgeon….she can diagnose any type of problem for a student, put a plan together for the student and perform interventions and supports to help the student get better,” Randall said. “Her persistence in making sure every student gets what they need to be successful is truly amazing and she holds high standards for all kids and makes sure they reach those standards.” 

Randall went on to say, “She is a leader within our school and has been a part of many programs that have helped promote student growth and success.  She always goes the extra mile whether it is for one student or our entire student body.  Wendy finds a way to make sure students learn and truly makes a difference for students.”

Stephani says this recognition validates what she does. 

“That other people see what I do as having a positive impact on kids because that is the biggest thing to me. You always kind of question what am I doing what is right? Could I do it different? Could I do it better? And the fact that some of what I do is recognized is pretty awesome,” she said. 

The selection panel will meet again near the end of March to narrow the pool of candidates down to around 10 and the final candidate will be announced at the banquet on May 3. 

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