After finishing her 26th year of teaching in Tea, fourth grade teacher Kristi Desaulniers was surprised to be named Teacher of the Year.
With the changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Teacher of the Year announcement came during the school board’s May 11 online meeting. Curriculum director Tonia Warzecha and Legacy Elementary staff members surprised Desaulniers at her home in Sioux Falls with her husband and two children.
“It just still doesn’t seem real. It’s hard to describe. Hundreds of people are deserving of the award, not just teachers because parents have become teachers, older siblings have become teachers,” she said. “It’s just such an unusual time. It’s time to appreciate everyone who has stepped up and helped out and helped everything move forward.”
Growing up on her family’s dairy farm near Avon, Desaulniers went to country school through sixth grade. While she did not know she wanted to be a teacher that early, by the time she was a senior, teaching became her career plan.
“I did always think I had a curiosity about many things and I thought how can I apply that in life. In education you can be curious about many things and you can continue to learn about many things. I really enjoyed math and sciences and geography,” she said. “In education you can do that. In elementary education you can specifically do that.”
While earning her elementary education degree from the University of South Dakota, she learned about teaching internationally. She also did an exchange during her junior year of college to Massachusetts.
After teaching third grade in Watertown for three years, Desaulniers moved to London. She spent two years teaching kindergarten at a boarding school. During the summer overseas, she taught art and English in Switzerland for 8-12 year olds.
She moved back to South Dakota and started teaching in Tea with the Lennox School District. A few years into teaching in Tea, she did an exchange for a year with a teacher in Canada. While in Canada, she taught second grade. That’s when she met her husband, Rob.
Desaulniers came back to Tea and has now completed 26 years of teaching in Tea. When she started in Tea, she was in the Legacy building. Then she taught in the District Education Center, then the intermediate building and back to Legacy.
While she has taught many different grades, her entire time in Tea has been in fourth grade.
“With all the changes from Lennox transforming to Tea to moving around buildings to starting with two sections and up to seven or eight in a building, it feels new and fresh every year or two. There’s growth and new faces,” she said.
Desaulniers said teaching in the Tea Area district has felt like she and the district have been growing up together.
“When the district was formed, it as more like a newborn where we had to meet basic needs,” she said. “It feels like we’ve been growing up together.”
Desaulniers said she has enjoyed teaching each grade while she was teaching them. However, she enjoys fourth grade because of the student interaction. She said their sense of humor is developing and their connections outside of their immediate world are expanding.
She helps connect them with people outside of their immediate world by adopting a dairy farmer from Baltic and bringing in exchange students. The last six years her students have met female students from Pakistan. So while she is not traveling to teach these days, she brings the world to her classroom.
With the pandemic, the last nine weeks have been like nothing she has encountered before. While her students have been distance learning at home, they were able to go on a virtual field trip with a previous exchange student from Kazakhstan.
“Amazingly this last nine weeks, with as unusual as everything has been, it’s been interesting to provide new connections that probably would not have happened had the world crisis not happened,” she said.
Desaulniers is appreciative of the honor of being named Teacher of the Year.
“I really, really appreciated opportunities in the district just to try new things. That seems to be continuing. It’s a very rewarding place to be. The kids and families are awesome. It’s an honor and privilege,” she said.