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Class Act: Former Colfax teacher named Middle School Teacher of the Year

by Marlys Kruger

When Suzanne (Sue) Devine began her teaching career back in the early 1980s, little did she know her passion for teaching and her ability to relate to students of all levels would eventually lead her down the path of being named the Wisconsin Middle School Teacher of the Year.

As many of you parents and former students may remember, Sue (formerly Anderson), taught fifth grade for the Colfax district from 1985-1989, coached middle school volleyball and basketball and was the high school cheerleading advisor. After meeting (and marrying) Tim Devine, who was (and still is) a middle school teacher at the school, they started a family and decided she would be a stay at home mom for the four children they eventually had.

“It was so hard leaving Colfax where I was so happy teaching amazing students from such awesome families,” Sue said. “Colfax will always hold a special place in my heart but I have no regrets after staying home for ten years with our children.”

When Sue decided it was time to get back to the classroom, she did some substitute teaching around the area then was hired by the Eau Claire School District. She has been teaching seventh and eighth grade social studies and science for Northstar Middle School for several years and was nominated for the Kohl’s Teaching Fellowship by a very supportive parent of some students she taught at the school. From there, a panel of educators, parents and community leaders selected four Teachers of the Year (one middle school, one high school, one special education and one elementary school), from a pool of 86 public school Kohl Teacher Fellows who were named in the spring of 2015.

According to information from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Sue has a commitment to her students that extends far beyond just what they learn in the classroom. She seeks to meet the needs of students facing challenging times outside of school in every way she can.

“Anyone can teach a classroom full of gifted students, but I have a special place in my heart for those whose personal struggles interfere with learning,” Sue said.

Sue is involved with the National Science Teachers Association and updates her lesson plans and curriculum whenever needed, but she goes above and beyond the classroom lessons. She has taken more than 100 students to Women in Science, an event that encourages girls to pursue careers in the science field, and she and her students are involved with many community service projects throughout Eau Claire.

A very surprised Sue (or shocked as she put it), received the award during what she was told was a beginning of the year kick off event for the whole school, staff and administrators along with State Superintendent Tony Evers as a keynote speaker.

“It was a complete shock hearing my name called,” she said. “I instantly cried as I walked over to receive my plaque and saw my whole family, who had been hiding in the weight room, there. In fact, I am still a bit overwhelmed. I don’t know how Tim kept this secret from me!”

When asked what the award meant to her after her many years of hard work, she replied:

“This award means the world to me. I was born to be a teacher and it is my true passion. I am blessed to be able to teach incredible students every day and like anyone in any career, it feels great to be recognized for my hard work and dedication.”

Never at a loss for words, husband Tim has fond memories of the years they taught together in Colfax.

“Riding back and forth to work allowed us to share stories about the interesting things that happened in our class that day,” he said. “Well, when I say talked, Sue talked and I mostly listened. But my four easiest years of teaching were the years when I had her former fifth grade students. They worked so hard for me and were so well behaved. I knew they were doing this to impress Mrs. Devine more so than me and they didn’t want to disappoint their favorite teacher. A friend (jokingly) asked me when I was going to win this award and I retorted, ‘How can I be recognized as the best teacher in the state when I’m not even the best teacher in my own house?’”

Sue and the other three Teacher of the Year award winners will receive an unrestricted $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation which supports the program. They all will be honored Sept. 17 at a program at the State Capitol and later this fall, a committee will select one of the four to represent Wisconsin in the National Teacher of the year program.

“I want to emphasize to all teachers in this great state that I share this state award with all of them,” Sue said. “I am proud to be a teacher and I hope that every teacher continues to work hard to encourage each individual in our classrooms to believe in themselves. We do make a difference!” she concluded.