Angela Tetschner has experienced a few changes during her two decades teaching in the Omaha Public Schools.
First, there’s her title: It has switched several times, from school librarian to teacher-librarian to media specialist.
Then there’s the technology: In her current role as a library media specialist at Nathan Hale Magnet Middle School, Tetschner spends less time today teaching kids the Dewey Decimal System and more time helping kids scour databases for research articles and stressing Internet safety.
“Nobody knows what the index to periodicals is, or remembers going down to the stacks,” she said. “All that is just foreign to them. They don’t know how lucky they have it.”
But some things about Tetschner’s job remain the same, including her core goals: to help students become strong readers and ethical, efficient researchers and skilled users of technology.
“There’s a perception out in the world that librarians don’t do much, they just sit there and shush people, and that is not true,” she said.
Tetschner is one of 15 OPS teachers honored for their hard work and dedication this year by winning the 2015 Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award.
The award, presented each year since 1988, goes to 15 OPS nominees with at least two years of teaching experience. The award is named for an aunt of Warren Buffett's who taught high school home economics in OPS for more than 35 years.
The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation sponsors the awards. Each winner receives a medallion, $10,000 and $500 in McDonald’s gift certificates. Awardees were treated to a dinner Friday night.
“It’s humbling to get recognized because so many people deserve it,” Tetschner said.
Teaching is a second career for Tetschner, 49, who started out as a copywriter in advertising. But it wasn’t quite the right fit, and she went back to school multiple times, racking up teaching degrees and endorsements for English, journalism and library media.
On a typical day, she might help a seventh-grade science class conduct research for a project on the periodic table of elements, teach a short lesson on how to mine databases and the Internet for reputable sources (no, Wikipedia doesn’t count) and help connect a reader with the perfect book.
“Mrs. Tetschner has opened new worlds to students, helped students temporarily separate from home or school stresses, and affirmed their differences, all the while bringing the student body together through a common appreciation, and even love, of reading,” read one recommendation letter sent to the Alice Buffett nomination committee.
She hosts reading competitions — during March Madness, kids competed in a bracket-style tournament, and students who brought a book and read quietly during sustained, silent reading time earned a three-pointer. There’s a reading hall of fame outside the school’s red, white and blue library, for good readers nominated by a teacher.
“We have voracious readers in this school, and we have other kids who will come in here and say, ‘I hate reading,’ ” she said. “It runs the gamut. And it’s kind of a Catch-22, because one of the only ways you’re going to become a better reader is to read more.”
Tetschner draws out reluctant readers by finding out what they’re interested in and matching them to the right book, whether it’s historical fiction or a graphic novel. With the explosion in popularity of young adult literature, there’s a huge variety of titles that might appeal to a middle school student.
Students are still devouring dystopian fiction, like the “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” trilogies, and weepy romances a la “The Fault in Our Stars.” But many of Tetschner’s students are also drawn to realistic, relatable stories.
“If they can relate to the characters, if they have the same issues they’re going through, talk like they do, dress like they do, they like those stories,” she said.
“That’s kind of the cool thing about being a librarian,” she continued. “Whereas an English teacher might have to teach ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ I’m all about choice.”
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