Elementary Teacher Wins Fox 9’s Top Teacher Award

By Chyelle Dvorak

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, ESV)

We’re called to reflect selfless love and care for others in everything we do. This often means thinking about another person’s needs before our own.

What would it look like to incorporate Christ-like servanthood into every aspect of life? Since Christians are called to value the lives of others as Christ values us, putting other people first affects every part of our lives. Stephen Boger, who recently won Fox 9’s Top Teacher award, makes an effort to integrate the values of his faith into his classroom at Humphrey Elementary School.

Every year across Minnesota, parents, students, and friends nominate hundreds of teachers for Fox 9’s Top Teacher award. Out of the hundreds of teachers nominated, nine winners each receive $900 for their school, a Top Teacher plaque, and a sandwich party from Subway. The teachers who win the award must meet the criteria of someone who goes above and beyond state benchmarks.

Boger was quick to point out the values he emphasizes in his classroom and why they are important.

“You need to be able to laugh at your mistakes and failures,” says Boger. “Don’t give up. Instead, realize that making mistakes is how all of us learn.”

How Boger chose Elementary Education

Stephen Boger is heading into his seventh year of teaching. He managed to land a job directly after graduating from Crown College in 2012 with a degree in Elementary Education. Boger has taught at Humphrey Elementary School ever since, and loves every minute of it.

“I try to teach the kids that in a world of ‘me me me,’ to look out for those around you and put others first,” says Boger. “When you start putting other people before yourself, you can see the joy that it brings to your life. In school, I try to teach values like that.”

Ever since he began teaching, Boger has felt right at home. But it wasn’t until the middle of college when he realized he loved teaching. Boger started his studies as a Biology Major and played both football and baseball at Crown.

One summer, the football team helped coach kids at a camp at Holy Family Catholic High School for a service project. Boger was the only person out of roughly 50 guys who signed up to teach football to the kids.

“One night out of the blue my best friend asked me, ‘Have you ever thought about teaching?’” says Boger. “It was almost as if I wanted to hear that question because I was indecisive about my major. My roommate said, ‘I’m telling you, we had such a frustrating time teaching high schoolers to play football today, but every time I looked over at you, you were the happiest I’ve ever seen just playing with those kids.’”

Right after this conversation, Boger changed his major from Biology to Elementary Education. He felt as though the different struggles he went through in college led him to make the decision. Not only was he free to do what he loves, but Boger began to view education differently.

“In response to my best friend, I kind of teared up just thinking, man, there’s something more to a career out there than just a job that you have to go to every day,” says Boger. “If I could have that at my job, I’d have it made. I was so thankful God opened that door and showed me there was an opportunity for me to have joy in my work while serving others.”

For Boger, learning isn’t about earning a good grade on a test. Life is about more than achievement. There’s a purpose to understanding the deeper meaning behind the things we learn. Perhaps caring about others in a way that inspires someone to lend a hand is really what teaching is all about — investing in the lives of other people, sharing what you know, and taking your eyes off yourself.

“My favorite part is investing in the relationships with the kids, connecting with them and teaching those values to them,” says Boger. “Your classroom becomes like a family when the kids understand that you’re not just there to lecture at them or give them a test. They will know you’re invested and that you care about them. Then, the learning just happens naturally.”

Transcultural Truth

The same values Boger shares in his classroom are reflected in the Teacher Education Department at Crown College. Tim Morrison, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, describes how knowing truth has impacted his way of training future teachers.

“It’s great to know that truth exists and is transcultural — meaning, truth is not cancelled out because some folks say it is irrelevant, non-existent, insufficient, or unknowable,” says Morrison. “Truth (one of Jesus’s names) is not negotiable, but is often debated (a thumbs-up) and rejected (a thumbs-down). We have the opportunity to explore who we are in Him and why He made us.”

Life has a purpose, failure is okay, and we have a Father who loves us. Understanding truth in this way is a powerful gift to give one’s students.

“It is fun to help the next generation of teachers learn how to think and not just what to think,” says Morrison. “So in the future, their students can do the same.”

Failure doesn’t define success

The hardest thing about teaching at a public school for Boger is not being able to directly share his faith. But even this challenge has not stopped Boger from seeing the opportunity he has to reflect Jesus. Investing in relationships, bringing his values to class, and living them out at work speaks volumes.

“You can go out there every single day and preach the Good News without saying a word,” says Boger. “Just the way you live your life, conduct yourself, how you treat people, and the values you have will point others to Jesus. There are enough kids today coming from tough situations. If you care for them and watch the ways you conduct yourself around them, you’re always going to stand out in their minds.”

In addition to witnessing in this way to the kids in his class, Boger’s values have sparked conversations with the parents of his students. As soon as parents see their children change in the ways they approach difficult situations or even failure, they want to know why.

“The kids who’ve been at the top of their class have never had to face failure before because reading or math comes easy for them,” says Boger. “They’ve always been ahead of everybody else. So by purposely creating opportunities for them to fail in a safe environment, they will learn how to overcome it. It’s great to also have the support of the parents who know that life values matter more than the scores on a report card. It’s really amazing teaching students and seeing the parents learn how to prioritize, too.”

The irony of creating an environment where students feel safe to ask questions and make mistakes is that they learn things faster. Knowing what to do with challenges and failure is a life skill everyone will need eventually. By showing kids how to cope early on, Boger has set his students up for brighter futures.

“No matter what you’re into, everyone can have the mindset of realizing we’re all going to make mistakes,” says Boger. “But who cares?”

In a classroom open to ideas, questions, and failure, learning is not only natural, it’s inevitable.

“We always see, especially through Instagram and Facebook, everyone’s perfect version of everything,” says Boger. “Through seeing these versions, kids feel pressure that if they aren’t perfect like other people, they’re failures. But when you embrace an atmosphere where it’s a safe place to fail, kids just get right back up and say, ‘okay, let’s try this again!’”

Perhaps the servant mindset Boger lives out in his job can inspire others to do the same. No matter what career we have, there is always an opportunity to point others to Truth. It’s the small things you do daily that make the biggest difference and teach us the importance of faithfulness above success.