Janelle Menzel’s algebra class was expecting a test Tuesday afternoon.
Instead, they got a room full of cameras, flowers and school staff as Menzel was named the Brainerd School District’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.
Menzel, a ninth grade algebra and geometry teacher at Brainerd High School, was surprised with the honor during class.
Hands shaking and a wide smile across her face, Menzel gripped a bouquet of flowers and hugged ninth-grader Reilly Miller, the student who nominated her.
“It’s a big honor,” Menzel said. “It’s a really special moment.”
Seven years ago Menzel joined the team at BHS. She centers her teaching style around connecting with her students.
“If you’re kind to the students, they respond to that,” she said.
That connection helps the kids learn, she said. Of course, there has to be a little fun involved — not everyone likes math.
Miller herself has always struggled with the subject, and that still proved true when she failed a geometry quiz in Menzel’s class earlier this year.
But one afternoon changed all of that.
“I came in after school and she went through every question with me,” Miller said.
Miller no longer cared about the grade. She finally understood the problems.
“She takes it slow and doesn’t rush,” Miller said. “She makes it fun to learn.”
And now geometry is fun, Miller said.
Menzel was chosen from a pool of five candidates for Teacher of the Year. It was her push to grow and innovate her classes that stood out, the selection committee wrote.
“She advocates for more women in math, science and engineering, and is a role model for female students,” the committee letter continued.
It’s a personal relationship with students, however, that really makes Menzel stand out, said BHS principal Andrea Rusk.
“Students may not like math, but they like Ms. Menzel,” she said. “She doesn’t give up on kids and they can see it.”
But Menzel doesn’t only reach out to the kids. She’s a leader in technology among staff as well, Rusk said.
A mom of two with a third on the way, Menzel can relate with the kids in her class.
“It’s amazing the power of a person who reaches out and truly cares,” Rusk said. “These kids are going through many life changes and she is there for them...She pushes and encourages others to be better.”