There are many requirements of a teacher these days to make sure that students walk away from their class better prepared for the next step in their lives.

On Tuesday, Wadena-Deer Creek kindergarten teacher Mandy Gallant demonstrated that sometimes well-laid-out plans need to be interrupted in order to deal with more important issues. During the the morning news report in Gallant's class, which allows all students to share any news with the class, one student rather sadly mentioned his dog just died.

It was a moment for Gallant to demonstrate to the class what she feels is a most important lesson-showing others compassion. After a hug, and some caring words, the class went back to wiggling away at another busy school day.

The academic standards continue to increase for students compared to when Gallant started teaching at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School 20 years ago. But she really hopes the kids walk away from her class with more than head knowledge.

"I just hope when they were here they felt loved and appreciated," Gallant said Monday following a morning of staff development at the WDC Elementary School.

Gallant's work as a teacher at WDC recently earned her a nomination as Minnesota Teacher of the Year. She's a part of a near-record 168 teachers nominated for the honor, the third-most in the 55-year history of the award.

Gallant has been a kindergarten teacher since 2006 but served as fourth-grade teacher, junior kindergarten teacher and gifted and talented teacher prior to that.

Gallant said she loves being one of the first teachers that many students meet in their start in public education. She said creating relationships with the student and student families is a huge part of what she does to increase the odds of the student learning to the full potential.

Gallant is pleased that the school administration continue to believe in the value of play. She likes to incorporate play into the school day as she sees socializing and relationship building as a key part of her students' learning. Her job is all about kids and she loves to be a positive role model for her class.

Those that nominated her for the honor say her work goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Elementary School Principal Louis Rutten said in his recommendation letter, Gallant consistently demonstrates exceptional skills as an educator.

"She understands that education is about lifelong learning," Rutten wrote. "She is most skilled at building and maintaining healthy relationships with students and their parents. She models taking risks and explicitly teaches strategies for students to persevere in their learning. I would rank her among the best teachers I have ever worked with."

He added that Gallant led Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) around effective literacy instruction and a new school-wide intervention model from 2003-2006; she became an ENVoY Classroom Demonstration Teacher in 2016 and has since demonstrated her non-verbal behavior management skills masterfully for over 80 area teachers; she recently volunteered to serve on the building renovation committee

"Students are at the heart of all Mandy does for Wadena-Deer Creek," Rutten wrote.

Former school board member Jil Fiemeyer wrote in her recommendation letter that Gallant is the epitome of a gifted and caring teacher that instills a love for learning and promotes the

development of positive characteristics in the young people.

"She is always optimistic, encouraging and has a genuine and personal interest in seeing students succeed and her warm smile is evidence that she loves teaching. It's obvious that Mrs. Gallant touches the hearts of the students she meets as student's faces light up when they see and visit with her."

Gallant went above and beyond her teaching duties when she helped Fiemeyer during her daughter's diagnosis of leukemia and even became a founding member of Princess Warrior Foundation, a 501c3 organization created in Jane's honor after she passed.

"Mrs. Gallant is an amazing teacher and woman, both inside and outside of the physical walls of

the classroom," Fiemeyer wrote. "Mrs. Gallant is an example of what all of our kindergarten kids deserve and she is very deserving of the Teacher of the Year honors."

Superintendent Lee Westrum also recommended Gallant for the honor saying that in his six years as a superintendent he has never heard a negative word about Mrs. Gallant.

"She is a very positive person, and she brings that positivity with her every day to her classroom, making school rewarding and fun for her students," Westrum wrote.

School board member Kent Schmidt is the one that originally nominated Mrs. Gallant for the honor. He noted that she is an excellent teacher, a passionate leader and "an extremely invaluable community member and volunteer."

About the program

This year's program will name the 55th Minnesota Teacher of the Year, celebrating the tradition of excellence in teaching in Minnesota. Candidates include pre-kindergarten through twelfth-grade and Adult Basic Education teachers, from public or private schools.

The 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be announced Sunday, May 5, at the Saint Paul RiverCentre. Over the coming weeks, a 25-member panel of community leaders will name a group of semi finalists and finalists. The 168 nominees came from a list of original 350-400 nominees. Many of those chose not to send in a portfolio of their work, which was necessary to be a part of the the process.

Organized and underwritten by Education Minnesota, the Minnesota Teacher of the Year program receives support from Education Minnesota ESI, Educators Lifetime Solutions, EFS Advisors, Harvard Club of Minnesota Foundation, McDonald's Restaurants of Minnesota, SMART Technologies and United Educators Credit Union.