photo by Ian Schneider via Unsplash

A Love of Learning: Local Teacher Spotlight

September 23, 2021

by katie jones backer

With a penchant for words, puzzles, family, and LEARNING, Marcie Nelson added a new love during the 2020-2021 school year: teaching. And what a historic year to have as her first in the classroom!

Originally from Nevada, Marcie and her twin daughters moved to Montana in 2014 ready to embrace a fresh start in our Treasure State. Having aspired to graduate college, Marcie put herself through school and her kids attended all of her graduations - from a Bachelor’s in Business to a Masters' in Counseling and Educational Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction. When asked why so many graduations, Marcie joked, “I just kept going [to school]! As the title eludes, Marcie is a lifelong learner and believes in the power of education; her desire to learn is now carrying over into teaching and inspiring young learners themselves. It’s incredibly heartwarming to see!

Marcie Nelson

Originally, Marcie believed she’d work in business or at an institution, but upon moving to Montana, and working as the Registrar at Senior High, she enrolled at MSU Billings to pursue a Master’s of Curriculum with a Library endorsement, inspired by a Librarian job posting she couldn’t stop thinking about. Once she was put in the classroom, though, there was no turning back. Her love for books hasn’t changed, but she felt a tug on her heart pulling her toward teaching. She credits her MSUB advisor, Alan Christianson, with encouraging her to teach. “I’ll never forget, he told me, ‘You’re gonna fall in love with teaching’… and he wasn’t wrong! [After classroom observations and student teaching], I knew I had to keep doing this classroom thing!”

Newly graduated and excited to get started, Marcie found herself as a first-year teacher at Broadwater Elementary during the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a novice teacher comes with its own array of challenges, then add to it the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic (whether schools would stay in person or go remote, masking, contact tracing—all the things)! And though there were certainly stressful days here or there, Marcie shared that it ended up being an amazing year. “The kids were so happy to be there. They really did the best they could with what they were given.” She tried to make the most of third grade for them, while still following social distancing/health guidelines.

Her principal, Justin Huck, had remarked to her at one point, that though it was a historic, crazy season, for Marcie being a new teacher, he told her, “You don’t know any different, or have anything to compare it too” which might have come as an advantage, he hinted. Marcie knew that the year would have its up and downs, but she was there for the kids… “and they are worth it.”

And so, she jumped right in to teaching, even going so far as to create the first ever Broadwater Elementary School Newspaper. She and her students worked tirelessly to highlight the school happenings, introduce staff and students, and use it as a way of connecting. While still in school, because of social distancing, remote learning, and/or the limit on groups, shared spaces, and activities, the newspaper was a great way for students and staff to stay connected even if they didn’t get the chance to see one another. She found that it was incredibly “positive, inclusive, exciting, cool, and a connection tool" for their building. And the kids loved it! Her students were responsible for writing the articles—taking pictures, interviewing peers, having to work on their writing/typing/spelling skills. She found a way for them (still beginner typists) on Seesaw to record their audio and she would listen back with them and help assist with the actual typing of the articles. Then, they could add in their own thoughts; each class had editors to help polish things up.

Having “grown up poor,” Marcie admits she wanted to teach at a Title school (especially after working at Senior High, which she loved). “I find these kids relatable. I grew up like a lot of them.” Continuing, “College was never talked about in my home. I was the first to have a college degree in my family.” And if she can instill a love of learning in them, and open up the world of possibilities to them, she knows more will go on to pursue their dreams of higher education.

Marcie had a couple heartwarming stories to share of students overcoming the odds. For the sake of privacy, I’ll simply relay a brief overview:

  • One student who really struggled academically and came across very reactive and tough, ended up, after spending months learning from the encouraging and warm Ms. Nelson, as a good-natured “teddy bear” who wants to go on to become a librarian. This student even won the principal’s “Growth Award” (the student’s first ever award). “It was very touching for me to see,” Marcie shared.
  • Another student who had suffered a severe loss, thrived in Marcie’s warm, safe classroom environment. The parent of this child left her a note saying, “If you ever question why you went into the profession, remember my son… any possibility you want to teach him again?

A love of learning and a passion for teaching is a powerful combination, but what makes Marcie even greater is her extreme compassion for others. It drives her to be the best teacher she can be. “I think that’s all it is… reaching one kid.”

As Mother Theresa famously said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

Where would we be without great teachers?! The students at Broadwater Elementary are so lucky to have you, Ms. Nelson… and I know if I asked you right now, you’d humbly say, “I'm the lucky one.” Keep on being a bright light and loving our kids! Good luck with year #2!

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