Named North Dakota Teacher of the Year, NAfME Member Discusses Music Education's Unique Role

Dean Aamodt ND Teacher of the Year
Dean Aamodt

When Dean Aamodt’s selection as 2015 North Dakota Teacher of the Year was announced recently, the music teacher from the Wahpeton Public Schools, said he wanted it to be a celebration of the schools and their students. “It’s not every day the governor of North Dakota comes to town,” he chuckled.

Governor Jack Dalrymple and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler presented the award. It’s the first time a music teacher has been named North Dakota Teacher of the Year.

Dalrymple and Baesler were joined by Wahpeton Public Schools Superintendent Rick Jacobson, Zimmerman Elementary Principal Rose Hardie, and Wahpeton High School Principal Ned Clooten.

Aamodt’s award presentation included 1,200 students from the Wahpeton elementary, middle and high school as well as teachers and members of the community. Students sang, and Aamodt played the guitar. Now he will participate in the National Teacher of the Year selection process.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect to be named teacher of the year at our school, not to mention teacher of our district or the state. I didn’t go into teaching hoping to receive awards. I’m pleased, though, because it gives me a chance to discuss the foundation music education gives to students. It gives me a way to talk about how student learn to take pride in their teamwork and other skills they don’t get anywhere else,” Aamodt says. “Music makes unique connections with students.”

He is also an advisor to student council at Wahpeton High School, and the week September 29 he’s busy helping coordinate homecoming activities, including a powder puff football game, bonfire, the game and of course the dance.

Aamodt teaches women’s ensemble, concert choir, show choir and guitar at Wahpeton High School to students in grades 9—12, and classroom music to kindergarten and first-grade students at Zimmerman Elementary School .

“I start them off and I finish them,” he said with a laugh about the different age-groups he works with. He also belongs to the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), North Dakota Music Educators Association, and the American Choral Directors Association.

Another music teacher and NDMEA member, Chris Harvey, who teaches  instrumental music for the  Hazen Public School was one of the four North Dakota Teacher of the Year finalists. Harvey is in his 25th year of teaching instrumental music, 23 of those in Hazen.  He is also NDMEA All-State Band Chair. Like Aamodt, he also believes in the importance of having high expectations of his students both in and out of the classroom.

Denese Odegaard, NDMEA executive director, and NAfME President-Elect, said of the two music educators: 

“I’m so proud of the quality of music educators in our state.  Their expertise and dedication is second to none.  These teachers have changed their students’ lives, and will always be remembered for the gift of music education they have shared with their students.”

One former student said Aamodt was instrumental in encouraging her lifelong love of music. Kimberly Nguyen says, “I went to high school at Temecula Valley High School in Temecula, California, where he started the choir program and taught many music classes for about 20 years.”

[A Minnesota native, Aamodt moved back to the upper Midwest to teach in North Dakota about five years ago.]

Nguyen adds, “With Mr. Aamodt,we explored and appreciated the music of different countries, periods, and genres, from the Protestant Reformation to Tina Turner. His enthusiasm and silliness always made choir fun, but what I remember most is that he challenged his students and held them accountable. It did not matter if you were the valedictorian or failing every class; he respected each student and expected us all to learn the music, support each other as an ensemble, and keep our word. He set the bar high and knew we would rise to it.”

 The National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) Program began in 1952 and continues as the oldest, most prestigious national honors program that focuses public attention on excellence in teaching. The NTOY is chosen from among the State Teachers of the Year by a National Selection Committee representing the major national education organizations. Each April, the NTOY is introduced to the American people by the President of the United States at the White House.


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Roz Fehr, NAfME Communications Content Developer, October 1, 2014 © National Association for Music Education (