The Influence of Others

Nebraska’s 50th Teacher of the Year says His Teachers were Inspiring Mentors

Like most teachers, Paul Timm was heavily influenced by the great teachers he enjoyed growing up.

In particular, he cites the effect of his high school agriculture teacher and his high school science teacher.

“My science teacher was inspirational. He had high expectations,” said Timm.

“My ag teacher was a mentor, and not just for myself. I saw him take kids that, as a teacher today, I’d consider have rough home lives, without much direction. He got them interested in something that could eventually become a skill or career.”

In fact, Timm recalls that he was with ag teacher Myron Schoch at a national FFA leadership conference when he realized he was destined to teach.

“It was a four-day experience with students from across the country, and it was just inspiring,” said Timm.

He had considered careers in engineering, the sciences and farming. He even gave brief thought to a dual farming-and-teaching career that he ultimately realized would be tough to do.

“I realized that my passion was working with kids,” he said. “I just knew from my junior year that I was going to be a teacher.”

That epiphany has worked out well – especially for the secondary students at Lyons-Decatur Northeast Public Schools. Their teacher of seventh grade life science, eighth grade earth and space science, ninth grade biology, applied science and an anatomy and physiology course, has been named Nebraska’s 2021 Teacher of the Year. Today he works with young minds in the same classroom where his science teacher, Gene Nelson, set such high expectations years ago.

Timm is Nebraska’s 50th Teacher of the Year. Other 2021 finalists were Michael Sandstrom of Chadron High School and Sarah Staples-Farmer of Lincoln East High School. All will be honored at a pandemic-delayed luncheon with the Nebraska State Board of Education in February.

‘An Opportunity’

Timm believes the Teacher of the Year designation is more “a position and an opportunity” than an award. From that perspective, he developed some thoughts on what he hopes to accomplish during his term.

First, he wants to bring encouragement to teachers who are hurting from the stress and overload of the pandemic.

“They need some hope. They want to do what they’ve been trained to do, what they love to do, and they don’t know if they’re going to get to do it on a daily basis. I hope I get a chance to speak some hope into people’s lives and tell them that what they’re doing matters,” he said.

Second, Timm hopes to focus on student mental and behavioral health.

“I see kids hurting, and in some cases it’s extreme. I want to be able to bring some light to getting help for kids who need help,” he said.

He notes there are 10 recognized Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and says there is discussion that COVID-19 should be recognized as Number 11.

“There’s not a person that didn’t come back into our school systems this year who hasn’t been traumatized somehow by the change in life that we’ve had over the past six months. And that’s kids as well as adults.”

His focus on mental health may mean going to the Nebraska Legislature to seek change. “I’m not going to pretend to be the expert at that, but I’m willing to learn,” he said.

Finally, he’d like to put a focus on outdoor education and inquiry, a keen area of interest and expertise of his.

Part of the Joy

Spend any time at all with Timm and you know quickly that he is passionate and enthusiastic about teaching and learning. Among his other teaching duties, he leads an entomology science inquiry course of his own creation, supported by the master’s in entomology he earned from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Timm incorporates inquiry methods throughout his courses and may be one of the leaders in teaching inquiry-based courses in Nebraska.

“The discovery in the search for new things is part of the joy. I think kindergartners do that better than anyone,” he said. “You get them outside and they find that rock and, ‘Oh, man, look at this!’

“We’re constantly talking about career readiness and college readiness, but we don’t know what careers are going to be in 10 years because things are changing so fast,” he said. “I think teaching the scientific and engineering method of discovery is a good way to go about preparing those kids for the changes they’re going to see.”

Timm’s seventh grade course revolves around birds, with each student assigned to a specific species. For instance, a student assigned to study the red-headed woodpecker will collect data, might look back at Nebraska’s habitat historically, might review how that habitat has changed over the past 150 years and how that habitat change affected ecosystems, food webs of that bird and even Native Americans, bringing a world view into consideration.

“The inquiry forces these other discussions and teachable moments that crosscut into other curricular areas,” said Timm.

A Happy Ending

His decision to teach, and the extent of Schoch’s influence, were reinforced during Timm’s college years. Timm recalls that a high school student who was a couple of years older became a proficient welder under Schoch’s tutelage. The student got into an FFA welding contest, placed well and earned a community college scholarship.

Later, in pursuit of his ag education degree, Timm had to take a welding course. The teacher of that course? The student from his hometown who had progressed from high school student to community college student to community college instructor. The community college faculty saw that he was not only a top-notch welder but was great at working with people.

“That’s why people get into teaching,” said Timm. “I hope that I’m being that sort of mentor and teacher to the students I’m working with.”

That story is a great example – an example that every teacher can understand, a reason for celebration each and every day.

“Remember why we got into the profession, and that the joy is still there,” said Timm. “The kids still view us as important people – like Myron and Gene were in my life.”

And as we now know that story had a very happy ending.