A place for everyone: Wahpeton music teacher creates inclusive classroom where each child is important


place for everyone

Photo by: Matthew Liedke

Dean Aamodt, who has been at Wahpeton Public Schools since 2009, often visits Zimmerman Elementary to teach music. Above, Aamodt sings and plays guitar with help from Brenda Hill’s kindergarten class including, from left to right, Alexandria McAvoy, Gracie Norling, Alyssa Johansen and Morgan Longhenry.


A place where a person can belong.

That’s what Dean Aamodt, music teacher at Wahpeton Public Schools, wants every student who walks into his class to experience.

“Everybody needs a place to belong,” Aamodt said. “These students come in here from different backgrounds, some from single-parent homes, some from two-parent homes, they come from different social and economic backgrounds. Everyone comes in here with stuff.

“Regardless of that stuff, we have to do our best to uplift each other and create music,” Aamodt continued. “That’s why I try to make everyone belong. You don’t have to be the superstar. You don’t have to be the soloist, but you will have a place. There is a place for you and you are important.”

Aamodt’s philosophy on teaching has evolved over his career and his life, which has taken him to many different places.

The 58-year-old educator described how, because his father was a missionary, 10 of his first 12 years was spent living in Japan. In 1968, his family returned to the United States and lived in New Effington, South Dakota.

“I had to get over the culture shock when I got there,” Aamodt said. “It went from 12 million people in Tokyo to 258 people in the new town I lived in.”

After graduating high school, Aamodt went to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and earned a bachelor of arts degree in music education.

“I really wanted to get into music,” Aamodt said. “Whether that was education or a performance major. Eventually I decided that I didn’t want to spend as much time in the practicing room so I went down the education path.”

After college, Aamodt’s first job was at Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, where he taught grades 7-12 for 12 years. Following his time at Pelican Rapids, Aamodt, his wife Melanie and their three children moved to Southern California where he continued his education career.

For 20 years, Aamodt would teach on the West Coast, however, he said he and his family still missed home, keeping bonds tight with the Midwest. When a job opened up at Wahpeton in 2009, Aamodt jumped at the opportunity.

From the start of his career until now, Aamodt explained that the students he has taught have stayed the same.

“They are still hungry to learn, and there’s no difference between the kids on the West Coast and in the Midwest, either,” Aamodt said. “I think kids are basically the same. If you have high expectations, work hard and you get them to buy into it, they will be along for the ride. If they see that hard work, they will work just as hard, that’s what I try to instill in them.”

What has changed, though, in Aamodt’s view, is the amount of accountability from the students’ perspective.

“Earlier, even when I was in high school, I would never challenge a teacher, they were high up there,” Aamodt said. “I think these days you’re held more accountable that you’re doing a good job. The kids will hold you accountable.

“It creates more of a discussion with the teacher that way,” Aamodt continued. “They ask, ‘What are the expectations?’ ‘What does our music really mean?’ ‘What is the benefit of learning this?’ I think when those questions get answered, they are more likely to work toward something. There’s got to be a reason.”

Earlier in 2014, Aamodt’s methods of teaching were rewarded by the state of North Dakota when he was selected as the winner of the North Dakota Teacher of the Year award.

“I found out through a phone call that I was one of four finalists. I thought at the time, ‘You’re kidding.’ It was the same deal when I won,” Aamodt said. “I just come to work and try to do my best. I never set out to seek an award, but it felt good and it felt good for all of Wahpeton. For our schools, administrators and our teachers.”

After it was announced he won the award, a party was thrown in September. During that time, Aamodt had a chance to meet North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and other politicians. During the ceremony, though, Aamodt made sure everyone was appreciated.

“It was a fun party, I wanted to make it a fun atmosphere,” Aamodt said. “It was a party that not just celebrates Dean Aamodt, but also celebrates Wahpeton, all of the teachers and the staff.”

“He was very well deserving. He has a lot of energy and is a total team player,” said Wahpeton Public Schools Superintendent Rick Jacobson. “He’s the type of employee who is willing to help out whenever you need something. He always thinks of the kids first and always wants them to have the best opportunity and have the best experience.

“The kids are the reason he comes to work every day,” Jacobson continued. “Every school would be fortunate if they could have someone like him. We are lucky to have a lot of teachers like that.”

The best days for Aamodt are often after a performance by his students to see what they thought about it.

“The satisfaction the day after from the students, how they felt about it,” Aamodt said. “It’s great, seeing the good feeling they get when they worked hard, put out a great product and other people appreciated it.”

For those looking to follow in his footsteps, Aamodt said just one thing is key.

“Work hard,” he said. “Work hard and be passionate and honest. If you work hard, other things will fall into place. Take pride in your job and good things are going to happen.”


Article by: Matthew Liedke

Original article on: Daily News – Wahpeton, ND and Breckenridge, Minn.


Kristen Rencher, Social Media and Online Community Engagement Coordinator, February 13, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)