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Nisswa educator, Brea O'Brien, named teacher of the year

NISSWA — The youngsters of Brea O’Brien’s Nisswa Elementary School classroom were just about to gather on the rug for Friday’s meeting.

Instead, the group was surprised with flashing cameras, flowers and a big announcement: O’Brien was named Teacher of the Year for the Brainerd School District.

Of 28 teachers nominated, four were interviewed by the selection committee of four community members. O’Brien was chosen for the high honor.

Shaking and wiping away tears, O’Brien said she was humbled by the award.

“There is a lot of wonderful staff in the district,” she said. “I am incredibly honored ... This is just heartwarming. My stomach is in knots.”

O’Brien has been at Nisswa Elementary for five years. She was brought on to teach a new kindergarten/first-grade multi-grade class.

Principal Erin Herman said O’Brien has flourished in the challenge.

“It’s fun to be in her classroom. Her excitement is infectious,” she said. “She has a sparkle that’s contagious.”

O’Brien has 12 kindergartners and 11 first-graders in her class this year.

“We’ve never had a student want out of that setting,” Herman said. “There’s a lot of tears when they leave first grade.”

Just after the honor was handed to O’Brien Friday, her class clapped and many said how their teacher deserved it. A few former students stopped by to congratulate her.

O’Brien was nominated by seven people. Here is what some of them had to say in their nomination letters:

Mary Kempton, who student-taught with O’Brien, said she uses the positive feedback and constructive criticism she learned from O’Brien in the classrooms she substitute- teaches in today.

She added, “Brea handled all (challenges) with ease and made it look effortless, thus showing her love and passion for her career and most importantly, her students.”

Kieran Moore, who had two kids in O’Brien’s classroom and is a class volunteer, said she is impressed with O’Brien’s “flexibility as she identifies what approaches are working and how lessons may need to be tweaked or completely reworked to keep every student engaged.”

“She doesn’t hesitate to change how things are done when an approach isn’t working,” Moore added.

Crystal Patnoe said her daughter, who was a student of O’Brien’s last year, still speaks of O’Brien.

“She is hands down one of the most caring, patient, and fun teachers I have met,” she said.

O’Brien said she teaches with the philosophy that learning should be fun. She preaches respect and being a team player.

She wants her students to have a love for learning.

“Then they’ll know that school is a fun, safe place to be,” she said.

JESSICA LARSEN may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at