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The City Journals

Two South Jordan teachers named outstanding educators in district

May 08, 2018 01:31PM ● By Julie Slama

South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey and others surprised South Jordan second-grade teacher Lois Mortensen during a fire drill to let her know she was chosen as one of this year’s 18 outstanding educators in the Jordan School District. (Jordan Education Foundation)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

South Jordan Elementary teachers quickly escorted their students outside the school building when the fire alarm sounded. The faculty and staff, except for second-grade teacher Lois Mortensen, knew it was a drill. For Mortensen, she thought it was the real thing.

“I kept worrying and even told our librarian, ‘This is all my fault,’” she said. “I said, ‘The fire marshal probably found the heating lamp on that was keeping the chicks warm, and I’m in trouble.’”

Instead of receiving an all clear to re-enter the building, the school children encircled Mortensen, who saw her family approach.

“I thought, ‘Oh, no, there was a problem’ and was just shocked when the superintendent (Patrice Johnson), Jordan Education Foundation and everyone came out and brought me balloons and said I won,” she said. “It’s a feeling I wish all the excellent teachers could experience.”

Mortensen and Elk Ridge Middle School teacher Kristie Wallace represent South Jordan’s Outstanding Educators among the 18 teachers and outstanding principal selected this year.

At a Wednesday, April 25 banquet, the 18 honorees will be presented with $1,000 each as well as a crystal award. This is the 25th year Jordan Education Foundation has recognized outstanding educators.

Mortensen said her principal, Ken Westwood, also presented her with a packet of letters written by teachers, students and parents who submitted them as part of her recommendation, of which she is most thankful.

“If I ever get discouraged, it will be uplifting to know I’ve done some good in the world,” she said. “This is priceless. It just brings tears to my eyes. Everyone needs a packet.”

That thought got her thinking about an upcoming project she wants her students to do. Among putting on the second-grade annual opera, having hands-on activities with their upcoming rock unit and taking part in Monster Math district competition, she wants her students to give words of praise to those around them as well as to each other.

“Everyone deserves a standing ovation and a smile on their face,” she said. “Kids are much more brilliant, but sometimes in the world of selfies, they need to get out of themselves and thank those around them eye to eye. For me, it’s the simple things that mean so much.”

That matches much of the pages of nomination letters that her principal compiled for Mortensen.

In the nomination, Westwood wrote, “While she plans and implements powerful lessons and projects in the classroom, she’s prepared to drop everything at a moment’s notice to take advantage of life’s teachable moments. Perhaps best of all, she’s pathologically positive and grateful. It rubs off on her students who learn to be thankful and positive as well.”

The surprise of Outstanding Educator for Wallace didn’t quite go as organizers planned. With her administration leading the way into her classroom, they found her alone, grading papers.

“The principal asked where my class was,” Wallace said. “I was having my student teacher learn how to work along with the students in the auditorium, so he went to get them.”

Once back in the classroom, the superintendent, accompanied by South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey and others, congratulated Wallace as the students cheered.

“I knew I had been nominated, but I was totally in the dark,” she said. “I remember saying I was grateful and humbled, but I had no idea that I actually won the district award until afterward when I was talking to a colleague.”

It was a nice send-off for Wallace, who will step down from teaching this year to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts at the University of Washington. 

“It’s kind of bittersweet, as I will miss teaching and working with the kids,” she said.

In her nomination, Assistant Principal Michelle Kilcrease wrote, “Mrs. Wallace not only cares about the content, she cares about each student as an individual. She engages students in exercises that lead them to self-discovery and understanding. But, her influence extends far beyond the classroom. Two of her greatest impacts are through our annual school musical and student government.”

In this past spring’s musical, she directed a cast of 100 students performing “Crazy for You.” Last year, with “The Lion King,” she had student performers learn American Sign Language to shadow their lead and sign for them, as it allowed an opportunity for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to enjoy the show at the same time as teach cast members to have compassion.

“I know what they can accomplish and hold them to it,” she said. “It’s amazing what they can do.” 

 Part of her philosophy as a teacher is to create a safe culture for her students.

“I care about them one on one and value what they are doing,” she said. “I teach theater skills as well as social and life skills. I want what they learn in the class to be a reflection of what they can do in life. I ask where can they use the skills and how can they continue to develop them. I hope I’ve impacted students in a positive way and hope they start where I am and go even farther. Their potential is limitless.”

In addition to these 17 outstanding educators and the outstanding principal, teachers in every school were being recognized in April, said the superintendent.

“There is not just one but several outstanding educators in our buildings, so it is fitting that we honor them at each school,” she said, adding that several area businesses donate gift certificates and tickets to the teachers in addition to Market Street Grill servers donating their tips to pay for meals for the teachers. “We’re grateful for our business partners who appreciate the quality of education our teachers provide to children.”