Spanish teacher Jane Jurgensen wins Golden Apple award

As far as motivation for going into the teaching profession goes, money is most likely the least influential factor – not far ahead of money is fame. Despite the persistent effort many educators put into their work, they are very rarely recognized for their dedication or significance. All too often, society looks past teaching and towards more glamorous professions to see the supposed builders of the future, in fields such as law, medicine, and science. This societal assumption, however, underlies the true importance of teachers as a fundamental aspect of our community. Although they often times go unnoticed, teachers are perhaps the most important members of society, as they teach adolescents to grow in terms of both educational and personal development. Given this typical lack of recognition, it is always special when teachers are given the opportunity to be recognized with the acknowledgement they deserve. One such way that this can be done is through the Golden Apple Award, sponsored by WHO-TV and Allied Insurance. Last month, after being nominated by an anonymous student letter, Spanish teacher Jane Jurgenson was awarded the honor. Although some staff members were aware that she would be receiving the award, Jurgenson denies having any idea about it prior to her award assembly. “It was a complete surprise, Spence lied to me, I had no idea!” Jurgenson said. “We had a staff meeting where Spence told me that he needed me to back him up at an assembly about attendance with the juniors. I came because, you know, I do what I’m told, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to receive any type of award!” Although excited about receiving the award, Jurgenson acknowledged that such recognition is not always necessary in order for someone to be considered a good teacher. “It’s nice to be recognized and to be told thank you, but that’s not the reason I became a teacher, for recognition,” Jurgenson said. “That’s not the reason you get into teaching. At the end of the day, all I hope to do is help students in some way, shape or form – to be publicly recognized is not necessary.” Jurgenson also considered the implications for the school district as a whole, saying that, “The real benefit of the award is positive publicity for the schools. There’s always negative publicity, and complaints about what we’re doing wrong. It’s nice to have a positive light shined on the district instead.” The last teacher from Ames who received the award was Social Studies teacher Kirk Daddow, who retired from teaching in 2008. Although there have been other teachers who have won a variety of other awards in the years since, there have not been any other teachers who have won the Golden Apple – an award that is particularly special because of its reliance on a student nomination process. Despite this, Jurgenson said that there was not anything about her teaching style that made her feel as if she stood out from other teachers. “There are a lot of better teachers out there, but I feel like I’m comfortable with a student telling me anything, which may set me apart in that sense,” said Jurgenson. “I have a counseling degree in addition, which maybe be part of why I feel comfortable with students coming to me with any issues.” Although Jurgenson has not made any major alterations to her teaching style over the course of her career, her approach to connecting with students changed after her son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. “Finding out that my son had Asperger’s changed me, first as a person and secondly as an educator. It opened up a whole new world for me, and I became educated on a variety of learning disabilities and how simple teaching techniques can help students who struggle more with learning concrete concepts.” Because of this, Jurgenson focuses on using a variety of approaches to teaching students, making them experiment with the Spanish language themselves, rather than just listening to and reading about it. “In addition to educating students about Spanish, I try to teach my students the life lesson that we all struggle at some point,” Jurgenson says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a genius or a student who has more difficulties with academics, we all struggle at some point. It might be when you’re eighteen and it might be when you’re eighty, but we all do struggle somewhere along the road – I think that is an important concept for the students to learn.”