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Middle school teacher helping students ‘flip the switch’ to find their passion

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MT. MORRIS (WREX) — Andrew Nelson's dad was a junior high school teacher for 32 years.

The apple didn't fall from the tree.

Andrew has spent over a decade in multiple education roles in the Oregon Community School District.

"I came in as the associate principal of the high school and then became principal of the high school and then made the decision that I really wanted to spend more time working more closely with kids so I made the request to go back to the classroom," Nelson said.

Once a spot opened up due to a retirement, Mr. Nelson made the transition back to teaching as an 8th grade language arts teacher at David L. Rahn Middle School.

It didn't take long for him to get readjusted to the classroom setting, relying on his ability to identify with students.

"What it really comes down to, especially at this stage, is they want to feel liked, they want to feel accepted, they want to feel like they matter," Nelson said.

"If you can create that kind of culture and climate in the classroom. . . that goes a long, long way."

If kids are in the right atmosphere, it can help them reach that "ah-ha" moment.

The feeling when they have found something they are truly interested in and want to pursue.

It's a sensation Mr. Nelson refers to as "switch flipping."

"On any given day and any given time, something may happen that may flip a switch which can turn them on to something. Some passion that could lead them down a road they would have never otherwise thought of going down before," Nelson said.

The proverbial light bulb went off in Abi Fletcher's head a few weeks ago to nominate Mr. Nelson for Teacher of the Week.

She credits him for helping make the transition to 8th grade a much more comfortable process.

"Honestly I wasn't too sure about 8th grade and then I walked into his classroom on the first day and said 'oh yeah. He is going to be one of my favorite teachers,'" Fletcher said.

"Some of the interesting things that he does and says make me say 'oh wow, this guy's special.'"

Fletcher resonates with the discussions in Mr. Nelson's class.

His lessons have real life ties to them which makes it relatable and more engaging for the kids.

One that sticks out to Fletcher involved essays her class wrote about the Holocaust.

"We actually went to the Holocaust museum and we talked to a survivor and he set it all up which was really cool, Fletcher said.

"Mr. Nelson really deserves some recognition for what he's done here at DLR and I know a lot of people love going to his class."

Knowing his students appreciate him enough to want him recognized for his work is a heart warming experience.

"The work that I've done and the culture that I have tried to cultivate in my classes is having a positive impact. The fact that somebody thought enough to nominate me is very humbling to say the least," Nelson said.

It's the same feeling he gets when his students "flip that switch" and find their passion.

Through years of teaching, it's a moment he never tires of seeing.

"I've taught thousands of kids and when that moment happens, it's just as good the 1,500th time as it was the first time," Nelson said.

"They may very well have an observation that I have never thought of before and to me that is seriously, seriously cool."

Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at eleake@wrex.com or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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