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Pierre teacher nationally recognized as great educator

Screenshot 2022-04-05 105552.jpg
Milken Family Foundation Photo
State Secretary of Education Tiffany Sanderson, right, congratulates Nichole Bowman on her Milken Educator Award as T.F. Riggs High School Principal Kevin Mutchelknaus looks on.

The interview above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.

A math teacher from T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre was recently surprised with a Milken Educator Award.

Nichole Bowman received the award which recognizes the nation's great teachers. She teaches algebra and geometry and has taught for 15 years, using small group instruction to personalize learning.

Bowman spends time working on her student’s mindset in the classroom. She wants her students to believe they can be good at math.

The Milken Educator Award will go to 60 people nationwide this school year. It comes with a $25,0000 prize that Bowman can use however she wants.

The following transcript was autogenerated:

Nichole Bowman:

I knew of (the Milken Educator Award) when I worked in Rapid City. There was a colleague of mine that had received the Milken Award. I was aware of it, but I had no idea that it was something ever that I could be considered for.

Even sitting in the audience with my colleague from Rapid, I literally remember sitting there thinking "That's never going to be me. I'm not that cool. I'm not that good at my job."

So when Governor Noem was giving the speech and she was talking about how important educators are, and then she mentioned Milken, I perked up a little bit. I started listening a little more because I knew what the award was. I had forgotten the details of what it entailed, but I knew of it. I didn't know that I was ever going to be in the position to receive it.

Lori Walsh:

The key takeaway is that teaching isn't something where you go to work every day and expect to get rewarded necessarily.

Nichole Bowman:

Yeah, no, definitely not.

Lori Walsh:

There are rewards, but maybe not awards I should say.

However, you have been identified as one of our nation's great educators. And that is something you can't apply for or seek out or go through a process of saying, "Pick me." It has happened to you based on the work you have done. And that feels how to you? How does that land with you?

Nichole Bowman:

I don't know. It's humbling and it is, what is the right word? I can't even describe the right word. It's hard for me to believe that I am in that category. I know what I do every day. I see how it impacts my kids every day, but it's hard for me to understand that what I do is not necessarily the norm. And I don't know how I feel about that. Because I mean, we all have our children go through school every day. And I would like to believe that how I reach my kids every day is the norm. But this award tells me otherwise.

Lori Walsh:

Let's talk about your kids, your students, because you are named as one of these Milken educators at a really difficult time in education — coming through a pandemic, coming through the kind of disruption that we have seen since 2020 really. And you've had to pivot in a million different directions. What are some of the things that you think about when you are doing that pivoting, when you're trying to figure out what to do next. How do you keep your students in mind for the decisions that you make?

Nichole Bowman:

Well, my pivots all have to do with my students. They are the forefront, so it's not, "I'm going to pivot this way. How does it impact my kids?" My thought process is where do I need to pivot to impact my kids? And when we left that day in March two years ago, I mean, it was heartbreaking. I kind of knew because I quickly passed things out to my kids. Like, "Just in case. Here's this, here's this, here's this."

But I had no idea that I wasn't going to see them again. And I got to work and I made sure things were accessible online that weren't just random videos that another person put out. I created the videos. I made sure the kids knew that I was putting in the time because what we had left to do was still important. And I knew that they needed it for future success, especially not knowing what the next year was going to hold.

Lori Walsh:

Were you able to follow through with that class of students in any interesting ways? What happened next for you?

Nichole Bowman:

Yes. I have quite a few of them in class again` this year, right now. In my geometry classes as sophomores and I have a few in my Algebra Two classes as sophomores. I see some of the effects of not being in a classroom and not having me being able to give the kind of input that is merely impossible to do through a computer camera. And so I've had to take some steps back with my students and I've had to make sure that they know that it's okay for them to need to be reminded of how to do something or of how to understand something.

The biggest thing this year, because I'm in the high school, is making sure my kids know: "It's okay for you to say you don't know it. I have no problem taking some steps back with you and making sure that we gain a better conceptual understanding of those concepts that you need."

Lori Walsh:

How do you encourage them to reach for something a little higher and to think of their potential a little more broadly, especially after such a difficult time, when we all had to reset our idea of normal. How do you inspire them in this particular time of their lives?

Nichole Bowman:

I start that at the very beginning of the year. We start the year with some team building activities and implementing very little math, fun math, highlight numbers or something. Just so that they have an understanding of how I kind of role play in the classroom.

And they have an understanding of how the classroom works. I do a lot of work with being mindful of one's self and each other — growth mindset — so that they know that they are capable of everything and that it is okay when they don't know. What's not okay is what you do after realizing you don't know.

We praise mistakes because learning can't happen without mistakes. You don't become better at something without figuring out what you don't know first. I stress the importance of that, of encouraging those mistakes to occur so that we can learn and communicate with one another when those mistakes occur. It's about just being willing to work together, even when you don't know what you're doing.