Yearly Archives: 2019

Matthew Tobin, West High School

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Position: 9th-12th Grade Social Studies/World History 

Years Teaching: 7.5 years

Hobbies/Interests: Reading, football, video games, comics, hanging out with my family, going to movies

What do you enjoy most about teaching? Watching students foster new skills that will be useful for life outside of school. 

What do you find most challenging about teaching? Finding new ways to challenge students to ensure higher levels of rigor. 

Best tip for new teachers: Don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance!

Best tip for career teachers: Always be willing to try something outside your comfort zone!

Favorite piece of advice for students: Get involved in something at school!

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: This is an incredibly humbling experience! I can’t begin to put it in words what this award means to me. I know I wouldn’t be recognized if it weren’t for the support and guidance West High and my family have provided me throughout the years.

Watch Matt Tobin’s Gold Star Video here!

Stacey Snyder, Orange Elementary

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Position: K-5th Expanded Learning Program Teacher, Gifted Resource Teacher

Years Teaching: 33 years

Hobbies/Interests: Gardening, Geocaching, Hiking, Kayaking, Singing, Storytelling, Citizen Science, Attending Live Performances

What do you enjoy most about teaching? It’s the feelings . . . the “aha” moments when the neurons fire and the “I get it” smile crosses the face, the excitement of new opportunities, the eagerness to be inspired, the hugs because we care, the moments when curious questions and wild wonderment are shared.

What do you find most challenging about teaching? Our continued attention to one-size fits all education including schedules, grouping and content that gets in the way of innovation and meeting kids where they are and encouraging growth.

Best tip for new teachers: GROW everyday: Grace (give it, receive it) Relationships, Relationships, Relationships! Opportunities~seek them, provide them Win-Win Attitude. Be present, take time to fill your cup or sharpen your saw daily, and be involved and embrace your community.

Best tip for career teachers: Challenge yourself to grow and take risks in education that put kids first. Take care of yourself and encourage students to take informed action!

Favorite piece of advice for students: You can do it! “Do or do not, there is no try.” (Yoda) Look at learning as an opportunity and EXPLORE the outdoors!

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: This is a culmination of all the integrity, intensity and intentionality that has helped shape not only myself but the entire teaching profession. It has me reflect on all the students that have touched my life and that have reached back to share how their education has shaped them. And it connects me with hope to my family . . . I carry the legacy of my grandmother as a teacher and extend to my children who are just beginning as teachers in this profession that influences all others.

Watch Stacey Snyder’s Gold Star Video here! 

Erin Wittenburg, Union High School

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Position: 9-12 Physical Education, 10 Grade Health Instructor

Years Teaching: 24 1/2 years

Hobbies/Interests: Exercising, Quilting, Gardening, Landscaping, Kayaking, Tennis

What do you enjoy most about teaching? Working with people to help them reach their goals, find their successes and shape potential and character.

What do you find most challenging about teaching? There is not enough time in a day, but that is why we have tomorrows!

Best tip for new teachers: To learn in the moments with your students is greatly rewarding. You don’t have to have all the answers as a new teacher (or an old teacher for that matter), but learn WITH them and you will love the process of education!

Best tip for career teachers: Be the leader and the change that you want to see in others. You are enough and you are counted on not only inside the classroom, but in your buildings and in your districts to lead your climate and faculties to be great places to work and grow in our Cedar Valley.

Favorite piece of advice for students: Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. This is how we all grow and learn. My greatest reward in the classroom is getting to see how your brain work as a curious learner and there are no such things as dumb questions.

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: Being a gold star teacher to me means being selected as one of the best teachers in the Cedar Valley who is counted on to be a quality educator, a community role model, and a driven person in pursuit of best all around practices. It means being recognized as a committed professional who knows how to go above and beyond the call of the raised hand in a classroom by bringing realistic experiences and relevant learning examples that raise curiosity, satisfy fears, and inspire careers. Gold star teachers are counted on to shape positive interactions and even negative circumstances in their districts and in their communities by their words and actions. To have earned a Gold Star Teaching Award means you’ve been consistently in the right direction in your role as an educator recognizable by many others and you are consistently counted on to do so.

Watch Erin Wittenburg’s Gold Star Video here! 

Kristen Schrock, Lincoln Elementary- Cedar Falls

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Position: 4th Grade

Years Teaching: 8 years

Hobbies/Interests: Being outside, going on walks with my children, reading, and spending time with my family and friends

What do you enjoy most about teaching? I love building a community in my classroom, where students can collaborate and learn from each other. It’s so fun to watch those “light bulb” moments where students are able to work together to problem solve and learn new things.

What do you find most challenging about teaching? Having enough time each day to ensure that each child is getting the love and support that they need and deserve!

Best tip for new teachers: My best piece of advice for new teachers would be to take the extra time to truly get to know each individual student in your classroom. Building relationships with your students is so important! When they feel loved and like an important member of your team, they are more willing to learn from you because they know that you care!

Best tip for career teachers: My best piece of advice for career teachers would be to collaborate with your colleagues and never stop learning! I have been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from and work with some pretty amazing educators who have taught me way more than I ever could have imagined!

Favorite piece of advice for students: Have grit! Set your goals high, believe in yourself and your abilities, and don’t give up until you reach them.

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: One of my biggest goals as an educator, is to ensure that my students enjoy coming to school and are constantly learning. Receiving this award reassures me that I am achieving that goal, and making an impact in my students lives.

Watch Kristen Schrock’s Gold Star Video here!

Tracey Simon, Blessed Sacrament

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Position: 5th Grade

Years Teaching: 11 years

Hobbies/Interests: I enjoy shopping with my daughters, vacations with my family, hanging out with friends, and fishing.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?  I love being able to see the changes and growth in each of my students throughout the year. It is very rewarding to know that I helped them reach their goals.

What do you find most challenging about teaching? I think the most challenging part of teaching is managing the time. There is so much I want them to know, and time does fly when we are having fun.

Best tip for new teachers: Don’t expect your day to be perfect, it is the unplanned events where you will learn the most each day. Be flexible, be patient, and embrace the unexpected.

Best tip for career teachers: Have faith and try your best everyday.

Favorite piece of advice for students: Success starts with believing in yourself.

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: I feel so honored to be chosen as a gold star teacher. It has been truly a privilege to work with such terrific students, staff, and parents. I feel so blessed to work in a system that allows me to share my faith and knowledge with my students. Thank you to my family, colleagues and students for your kindness, patience, and support.

Watch Tracey Simon’s Gold Star Video here!

Sara McIntosh, Dunkerton Elementary School

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Position: 4th Grade

Years Teaching: 7 years

Hobbies/Interests: It brings me joy to help on our family farm. We take care of sheep, cattle, horses, chickens, and a few goats. We also crop farm. I also enjoy crafting, shopping, and spending time with my children. I love going to the lake and sitting on the beach.

What do you enjoy most about teaching? I love the opportunity to change lives. I also get the chance to be creative in lessons, develop great relationships with students and colleagues, and help develop lifelong learners.

What do you find most challenging about teaching? Here are some of the things that can be challenging as a teacher. Balancing the different learning needs of students can create a challenge, especially if there are large gaps. Every student who walks through my door is different. There are also many behavior challenges that student face now a days, and that can be difficult.

Best tip for new teachers: Love your students! No matter what your first year throws at you, just love them! There will be things that you do that make you feel proud, and there will be things that you do where you feel like you could have done better. At the end of the year though, the students will know that they were cared for and loved as not only a learner, but a real person.

Best tip for career teachers: Always face the day with a smile on your face and a positive attitude, even if your having ‘one of those days.’ A simple smile, joke, or funny comment always brightens EVERYONE’s day.

Favorite piece of advice for students: Have a growth mindset in EVERYTHING that you do inside and outside of school. Remind yourself that every single day, you are a learner. Sometimes you just need more practice when it comes to certain skills and situations. Love yourself, and think positive!

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: This award means a lot to me. There are many days that I wonder if I’m doing enough for my students. This award shows that all of my hard work does not go unnoticed. I also reflect on all the support I’ve had along the way throughout my teaching journey. I couldn’t do what I do without them. My family, paraeducators, co-teachers, administrators, partner teachers, babysitters for my own students – all of these people have made it possible for me to do what I do every day. I also thank them for this award!

Watch Sara McIntosh’s Gold Star Video here!

Lorri Mehmen, River Hills

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Position: Special Education 

Years Teaching: I began my career at a Cadet Teacher at River Hills during my senior year of high school. I went on to become a para-professional at River for eight years, and became a special education teacher 11 years ago.

Hobbies/Interests: Fishing, boating, four-wheeling

What do you enjoy most about teaching? My greatest joy is seeing my students’ faces “light up” when they accomplish a skill/activity they have been working on for (sometimes) months.

What do you find most challenging about teaching? One of my favorite things to do is go shopping for my classroom before the start of every school year. My challenge is figuring out how I can adapt the various supplies so they work for my students. It’s not always easy, but when I see it actually working in my classroom it is very rewarding.

Best tip for new teachers: It doesn’t matter to kids if you’ve been there one day or 30 years. Kids seem to know instinctively when a teacher cares about them. So don’t stress over your inexperience, just give yourself a little time and you will hit your stride.

Best tip for career teachers: Hang in there. Believe it or not, I promise you will miss this when it’s over.

Favorite piece of advice for students: We will work together to ensure that you are the very best you can be.

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: This is truly an honor for me and I am grateful! I was thrilled to be nominated and overwhelmed with emotion when I was chosen as a Gold Star Teacher. I am proud to represent River Hills School because I see the phenomenal things that are accomplished here every day. I am humbled because I believe all the teachers and staff deserve to be recognized for their passion and dedication. Again, thank you.


Watch Lorri Mehmen’s Gold Star Video here!

Ann Thomas, Lou Henry Elementary

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Position: Technology Integrationist

Years Teaching: 5 years at Lou Henry

Hobbies/Interests: Biking, Silversmithing, Reading

What do you enjoy most about teaching? Hands down- my students! Secondly, the ever changing nature of technology

What do you find most challenging about teaching? Balancing home and work life.

Best tip for new teachers: Form a relationship with your students before anything else. No learning takes place in the absence of that kind of connection with your students.

Best tip for career teachers: It’s so easy to get caught up in everything that needs to be done in a day but take time to enjoy your students and really listen to them. Some of the biggest belly laughs I’ve had in life have come from conversations with my sweet and funny students.

Favorite piece of advice for students: Don’t compare yourself to others. You have unique gifts you bring to the classroom that no one else has. Find them and use them!

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: This was one of the biggest surprises of my life and one I won’t ever forget. I am incredibly humbled because there are so many teachers that probably deserve this award more than me, but I am beyond appreciative of it and will be thankful for this distinction for the rest of my life.


Watch Ann Thomas’ Gold Star Video here!

Rafael Benitez, Bunger Middle School

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Position: 8th & 9th Grade English

Years Teaching: 3 years

Hobbies/Interests: Eating. Spending time with family, friends, and loved ones. Watching sports with my cat, Casper. Going on adventures and travels with my love, Vanessa Horstman

What do you enjoy most about teaching? Building relationships with students and seeing them succeed in academic and non-academic pursuits.

What do you find most challenging about teaching? The daily emotional drainage. Being in a profession that non-educators have political influence over. Teaching in a building with only two administrators when all of the other middle schools have three administrators.

Best tip for new teachers: Relationships.Relationships.Relationships

Best tip for career teachers: Remember that we are in a profession to do what is best for kids.

Favorite piece of advice for students: Smart never goes out of style.

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: It means an opportunity to say thanks to all of those who have helped me along the way. To my Reyes, Benitez, and Chatman family. Mi amor Vanessa, her family, and my friends and the parents of my friends. Thank you to my coaches: Coach Jacob Mueller, Ryan Castle, Ben Nietzel, Jose Varela, Aaron Turner, Ricky Leza and the rest of the Muscatine Muskie football and soccer coaches. The Mussehl family for giving me a job at the gas station to help pay for college. Muscatine Community College and Dr. Dave Carson, my academic advisor. To the University of Northern Iowa, the educational leadership program, and Dr. Becky Hawbaker. Thank you to the community of Louisa-Muscatine for making me feel like family and for giving me the support I needed during my first year of teaching. Thank you to Dr. Rachel Savage, Francisco Pepin, and the staff of Bunger Middle School. To my 8th grade team: Justin, Shelley, Matthew, Montana, Candyce, Andrea, Kim, Abby, and Alyssa. Another special thank you to the Hubbard brothers, John and Paul. Thanks to Britt Jungck, Claude Matthews, DeMarius Walton, Jenny Paulsen, Jeremy Jones, and Eric Rosburg. To the teachers who made impacts on me: Mr. Adam Wiley, Mrs. Heather France, and Mrs. Karissa Anderson. To the teacher who influenced me and others to become teachers to spread her love and wisdom, Mrs. Laurel Molen McCreary. May you continue to guide us and make fun of us when we struggle with teaching from above– I miss you so much. To my students, you all have made each day unique and meaningful. I have learned so much from you all and every single day is different. This could not have happened without you all.


Watch Rafael Benitez’s Gold Star Video here!

Justin Decker, East High School

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Position: Special Education

Years Teaching: 4.5 years, all at Waterloo East.

Hobbies/Interests: Outside of teaching and coaching, I compete in weightlifting where I am ranked top 10 in the country. Other than that, I like to do my own professional development by reading books, I travel and speak to schools and coaches, and I still enjoy playing video games.

What do you enjoy most about teaching? I love watching student’s succeed academically and athletically. There is no greater feeling in the world than having students come to you and share their successes, rather it is passing a test, coming back and visiting during college or going and watching your former students compete in college.

What do you find most challenging about teaching? Continuing to balance planning, grading, and data collection while maintaining a positive and motivating attitude everyday. Teachers are human too and it takes a lot to keep all areas at a high level.

Best tip for new teachers: If kids or coaches have never had success, you have to do the believing for them. Remember that every time you say a positive or encouraging comment to someone, it only helps build and create culture.

Best tip for career teachers: If you don’t make every effort to support the kids year round, how can you expect them to commit to you?

Favorite piece of advice for students: Trust the process! Although activities, practice, etc. may not make sense right away, continue to trust your teachers and coaches and push through. They all have a certain plan for you and if you follow it, success will come!

What being a Gold Star Teacher means to you: Being a Gold Star Teacher means the world to me because I believe it represents all of East High. It shows that our students and staff here are all capable of achieving success at high levels and that if everyone believes and supports our students, we can achieve it together. I want people to see this as a representation of how always doing the right thing and sticking to your morals will result in success.


Watch Justin Decker’s Gold Star Video here!