LINCOLN — There’s no hiding Sydney Jensen’s charming Southern accent.
Or the “Yes, Ma’am” courtesy she showed the news media.
Or her enthusiasm that kinda bubbles over.
Originally from the small dairy town of Eatonton, Georgia, Jensen, 28, will now represent Nebraska as 2019 Teacher of the Year.
A delegation of state education officials on Thursday paid a surprise visit to her ninth-grade English classroom at Lincoln High School to give her the award.
Even outside her closed classroom door, officials could hear her strong voice from inside the room as she and the students worked through an English exercise.
Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matt Blomstedt led the procession inside, announcing the award.
Blomstedt turned to the students in her classroom, noting their excitement.
“I can tell by your reaction you like Mrs. Jensen just a little bit ...,” he said.
Several students shouted: “A lot.”
“A lot,” Blomstedt said. “You’re very lucky to have such a great teacher as Mrs. Jensen. The State of Nebraska is lucky, and I know Lincoln Public Schools is very lucky as well.”
Jensen smiled and seemed a bit stunned. She hugged her husband, Mike, who was there for the presentation.
“Oh my gosh, it’s so exciting,” Jensen said.
She said she puts a lot of work into her students, and she’s honored to be recognized for it.
“It’s very humbling, because I know that everyone in my building and everyone across the State of Nebraska who’s a teacher takes their job really seriously and gives their very best effort every single day.”
She said she likes cooperative learning, in which students work together toward answers, and building relationships. She said she was nominated by Nebraska’s 2017 Teacher of the Year — another Lincoln High teacher — Amber Vlasnic, whom she admires. A panel of Nebraska educators selects the teacher of the year.
Jensen said she has always liked working with kids, and English is her strength.
“I stay a teacher at Lincoln High because it’s really been a community for me,” she said. “I really love getting to know students and their families. I love working in a place that’s so supportive and collaborative, so I know that teaching is the right fit for me long term.”
She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree from Doane University. She has been a teacher for five years, starting at Dawes Middle School in Lincoln.
She said she is a product of public schools and knows the difference the public school educators have made in her life. She wanted to do the same, she said. She described herself as a “warm demander” and said the kids know she cares.
There are educators in her family.
“My granddaddy taught high school history, and my grandmother taught high school science,” she said.
One of her students, 14-year-old Nevaeh Alexander, said Jensen is always willing to help.
“We can talk to her about not just English,” Alexander said. “She’s someone we can talk to about anything.”