Before Melissa Oberg, a special education teacher, walked up to the podium to accept her 2023 Educators of Excellence award at the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) Banquet and Award Ceremony in Brainerd, MN, a short and very moving video was played highlighting the work she has been doing at the Cook County Public Schools in Grand Marais. Before she began her speech, she mentioned she had wished she had seen it previously as it was, in her words, “hard to follow.”
In the few minutes of watching Melissa’s interaction to students with special needs in her classroom, it was very clear why she was so deserving of the award, which the MREA presents to four educators during the annual Greater Education Summit. One of the presenters described Melissa, who left a corporate marketing job to pursue her passion for teaching, as a beacon of light in the school. “Her smile, and her love for teaching and her students lights up the entire school,” she said. “In fact, you could plug her into the light-house in the harbor, and she would light up the entire community.”
Superintendent Chris Lindholm praised Melissa as a “ball of energy and love” with great compassion for her students. Students echoed this sentiment, with one expressing gratitude for ensuring that no one felt alone in the room and another acknowledging her efforts to create a place for all students.
In her speech, Melissa talked about her passion for helping students reach their goals. One of her guiding principles has been to help students develop skills for meaningful work. The video showcased students making and delivering coffee to educators in the school—a tangible example of skills that can be added to their resumes.
“I hope when my students leave here, they understand they have gifts to give the world,” Melissa stated in her heartfelt acceptance speech. She emphasized the importance of teaching as a team sport, expressing gratitude for her dedicated team at Cook County Schools, whom she called some of the most dedicated teachers around.
Melissa also thanked her family, including her husband and two sons (who attend to teach her and expressed gratitude to the families whose support has contributed to creating a learning community that goes beyond the classroom.
In her closing remarks, Melissa emphasized her core guiding principles—belief in the power of community, inclusion, and creativity. “Together, we formed a village dedicated to the success of each kid,” she beamed with her beacon-lighting smile.
Congratulations to Melissa Oberg and the recipients of the 2023 Educators of Excellence Award! Thank you for all you do for your students and the communities you serve.
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