When Joni Fischenich graduated from Southwest State University with an elementary education degree, she fully expected to be an elementary school teacher somewhere in Minnesota.
However, life doesn’t always work out the way one expects.
During the 1993-94 school year, then Dean of Students Chuck Miller came to Fischenich and asked her if she would be interested in teaching English as a Second Language, part-time, to four students in the district.
Now, 29 years later, her job title (English Learner instructor) and the number of students she teaches have changed, but her responsibilities haven’t.
“I just build those relationships,” Fischenich says of her teaching philosophy as an English Learner instructor. “I don’t have that language to connect, so in some way I have to portray to them, ‘You can trust me. I’m here for you. I will advocate for you. I will be your biggest champion or fan if you work.’ My philosophy is show them you care.”
And it is that approach, among many other aspects of her work, that has earned her Windom Area Schools’ 2021-22 Teacher of the Year.
“She is a tireless advocate for the students in our EL program, ensuring that they and their families are able to access the supports they need and that students’ developing language skills and acculturation are not inadvertently mistaken for something other than who they really are,” the nominator wrote.
For much more on Windom’s Teacher of the Year, see the story on the Faith & Family page in the Dec. 15 issue of the Cottonwood County Citizen on newsstands now.