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Educator up for state Teacher of the Year

Sitze district’s third finalist in last 4 years

Published: Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 4:07 a.m. CDT
Aaron Sitze

OREGON – For third time in 4 years, Oregon School District has a teacher named as a finalist in Illinois’ Teacher of the Year competition.

This year, an Oregon High School English teacher joins the ranks.

Aaron Sitze, 35, first started teaching English at Oregon High 11 years ago, in 2002. He’s been in the same room ever since.

A Northern Illinois University grad, Sitze became interested in teaching when he went to college and fell in love with writing and literature.

His interest was sparked before then, too.

“The reason I am who I am is because I had some teachers who really challenged me,” he said Thursday. “They made me question what I was really capable of.”

He hopes to have the same effect on his students.

“I just want my classroom to be a bright spot in their day,” he said. “It’s a place of continual challenge, but it in a lighthearted, creative, sort of goofy way.”

Oregon High Principal Andrew Nelson has known Sitze for 6 years – the entire time he’s been at OHS.

“I’m not surprised by this in any way, shape, or form,” Nelson said. “He is an outstanding teacher. He has what I refer to as the ‘it factor’ – you know it when you see it.

“It’s a combination of strong instructional skills and a really good rapport with his kids. Once you establish that, just about anything is possible.”

This is the first year Sitze has been nominated for the award, and comes at the tail end of his earning National Board certification – a 2-year process Nelson calls “grueling.” Sitze is the seventh Oregon High teacher to attain National Board certification.

“If you can get through that successfully, you have basically achieved the top of your profession in public education,” Nelson said. “There was no doubt in my mind that he would make it once he embarked on the process. He’s one of those truly intelligent, highly motivated, reflective teachers.”

“That was intense,” Sitze said of the process, laughing. “It was the most intense reflective process I’ve ever been through. It’s like climbing a mountain – you hate it while you’re doing it, but once you’re at the top, you love the view.”

The two previous Oregon School District teachers named teacher of the year finalists were Pamela Steele, fifth-grade science teacher, in 2012; and Kimberly Radostits, high school Spanish teacher, in 2010.

Sitze is one of 11 finalists. If he wins, he’ll get to act as the state’s representative at conferences throughtout the United States, where he’ll meet with industry leaders to discuss what’s next for education.

The winner will be announced at the “Those Who Excel” banquet Oct. 19 in Normal.

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