LINCOLN, Neb. (COLOGNE) – A Lincoln teacher received the surprise and honor of her career on Thursday, and it all happened in front of the students she dedicated her life to.
During Lincoln High School’s first period — just as Renee Jones sat her freshman in an oral communication class — Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt brought a line of cameras into the room. He held an apple award and presented it to Jones as the 2023 Nebraska Teacher of the Year.
Jones began teaching at Lincoln in 2021, but he’s already made a big impact on students. He says his secret is building trust with students.
“The connection comes before the curriculum,” Jones said. “Of course, we have to review the content. We have to go through the criteria. Everyone is here because we have something to learn and we have to grow as people. But I always want my students to feel that I care about them.”
Once the initial shock of the announcement wore off, the award came as no surprise to her students.
“If she didn’t help me with my speech, I wouldn’t be here talking,” freshman DeAdrian Walker said. “She’s respectful. She helps kids when they’re sad. She always helps them be in a good mood.”
“He always comes in with a positive attitude, even when the whole class is dead or like super tired,” freshman Parker Beacham said.
Jones took the road less traveled to teaching. He majored in criminology and criminal justice. Initially, she worked at a residential treatment facility with CEDARS in Lincoln.
Jones began teaching in California in 2014 before returning to Nebraska to teach English at Bryan’s Community Focus program. She currently teaches oral communication, Holocaust literature, and creative writing.
Through it all, she hopes to teach students lessons and values that will last a lifetime.
“I hope the students know that I cared about them and cared enough to push them to do something that made them uncomfortable, whether it was through analyzing literature or standing in front of our stage,” Jones said. “But then they can connect the dots about why it’s important later in life.”
The State Board of Education will soon honor Jones at a public event. She will also compete in the National Teacher of the Year Competition.
The winner will probably be announced in early 2023.
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