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Morris Area Teachers of the Year: Lori Boettcher

Lori Boettcher with MAES 4th-grader Payton Zephier (left) and 1st-grader Santos Muniz.

By Tom Larson, Sun Tribune

Lori Boettcher occasionally sprinkles the words "when I grow up" into conversation.

It's a funny phrase to hear from a 42-year-old, especially when it's clear, judging from the dedication she's shown in her personal life and profession as a Morris Area Elementary School first-grade teacher, that Boettcher is infinitely more "grown up" than most people could ever hope to be.

But it does speak to Boettcher's belief that there is always something to learn, that there are ways to improve, that there are changes to expect in the future. In other words, Boettcher is continuously "growing up."

It's undoubtedly why Boettcher was selected by her peers as one of the district's 2009-2010 Teachers of the Year with MAHS science teacher Tim Cannon.

"This truly is the best job in the world," Boettcher said. "There are not too many people who can say they really like their job."

Boettcher is a native of Sioux City, Iowa, and she worked at a Taco John's restaurant while she completed high school. After graduating, she moved on to manage a Taco John's in Aberdeen, S. D. It was her belief that business was her calling that led her to Morris, to manage the Taco John's.

"I always wanted to go to school but I just never did it," Boettcher said. "I didn't know what I wanted to do when I got out of high school. I probably always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I also thought I'd stay in the business world."

Boettcher met her husband, Ed, in Morris. They lived in the same apartment building when Boettcher moved to town in the late 1980s. They have been married 20 years.

It wasn't long after her move to Morris that Boettcher enrolled at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and she graduated with a degree in education in 1993. She taught eight years in the Cyrus Math, Science and Technology school, and has been in the Morris Area district for the last eight years.

The Boettcher's lost their daughter, Brielle, as a newborn. Son Timothy, 4, was born with Down syndrome. It was after the death of their daughter that the Boettchers committed to something they had long discussed.

"We've always been kind of interested in foster care," Lori Boettcher said. "We always talked about doing it. We wanted to open a summer camp for troubled kids but there was a lot involved in that. We decided to try foster care."

The Boettchers contacted social services and became licensed. They've taken care of between one and four children at a time, with the goal that they all would one day be reunited with their families.

The Boettchers -- Timothy, especially - have grown through their experiences, Lori said.

"It's definitely rewarding," she said. "It's heart-wrenching sometimes, but it's awesome to have other kids around (Timothy). For us, my husband and I, we get a lot out of seeing the kids thrive, but the best is getting to watch our son. It is so good for him."

And teaching has been good for Boettcher. She earned her masters degree from the University of Minnesota, Duluth in educational technology in 2004, and she's been inspired by her experiences at CMST. All her first-graders create a PowerPoint that they show to their parents.

"First-graders just dig in and do it," she said. "They're not afraid (of using technology). You expose them to it, get them interested and they'll be fine. I don't worry about kids."

Boettcher said she was surprised and humbled by her Teacher of the Year selection. But she really shouldn't have been. It's what comes to people who are never done "growing up." She's preparing her state Teacher of the Year paperwork, and if she's fortunate enough to win, she envisions using the opportunity to "get the message out there."

"Someday when I grow up, I hope to have enough experience to go out to schools and talk to people," she said. "It wouldn't surprise me if I'm not in the classroom in 10 years."