December 2013

 

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Zebra Staff Note:
The Teacher Feature highlights the positive impact or innovative work of a South Dakota teacher each month. If you have a suggestion for a Teacher Feature, contact Ruth Raveling at (605) 773-2593 or Ruth.Raveling@state.sd.us.

Avon math and science teacher named National Rural Teacher of the Year

Paul Kuhlman was recently named the Monsanto Fund National Rural Teacher of the Year. He has been teaching for 25 years, the last 21 in Avon, where he currently teaches physics, chemistry, physical science, geometry and seventh-grade math.

Kuhlman’s interest in science was sparked by his rural upbringing—his backyard playground was a creek and small wooded area. And while he had never really considered a career in teaching, an advisor suggested it as a possibility when he was a junior in college. After teaching a middle school class a lesson about the tap root of a dandelion, Kuhlman says he was hooked.

Kuhlman encourages his students to be inspired by the world around them as well. Computers and graphing calculators are common tools in his classroom, but so are jugs of milk, loaves of bread, a Thanksgiving turkey and even a clothes dryer. In his chemistry class, students separate milk into its component parts, discover how a pop-up turkey timer works, and bake bread with different leaveners. In his physics class last year, a group of students constructed and tested a heat exchanger for a clothes dryer, which captured some of the dryer’s wasted heat.

The Avon School itself becomes a scientific laboratory when Kuhlman drops objects of different masses off its roof, three stories up, repeating an experiment inspired by Galileo.

Those three stories house all of Avon’s K-12 students and getting to see them progress from early elementary to graduation is one of the things Kuhlman enjoys about teaching in a small school.

“My wife Benita teaches first grade in Avon, so I often teach her former students six years later,” Kuhlman said. “The strong bonds between students, teachers and the community at large really make rural teaching special.”

This award is presented by the National Rural Education Association. As the National Rural Teacher of the Year, Kuhlman receives a $2,000 honorarium and the Avon School District receives $1,000 towards instructional materials and school supplies, courtesy of the Monsanto Fund.

Kuhlman credits this award to the efforts of all his current and former students: “Their enthusiasm and excitement for science make teaching an immense joy.”