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Sugar House Journal

Highland High School Teachers Receive Salt Lake City School District Teacher of the Year Awards

Aug 14, 2015 10h45 ● By Bryan Scott

Doug Jorgrenson

By: McCall Mash

Every year, Salt Lake City School District honors its teachers through a celebration and hands out prestigious awards for the district Teachers of the Year and for the schools who made the most progress throughout the school year. 

The district names three Teachers of the Year, including the District Teacher of the Year, Early Childhood Teacher of the Year and Special Education Teacher of the Year.  

Teachers are nominated for the awards by students, parents and their coworkers. From there a selection committee is formed, which narrows down the nominees to the top four candidates. After these candidates are selected, a new committee is formed to review the candidates. The review consists of an interview with each of the candidates and then the committee may observe the candidates in the classroom before they make the final selection.

Each of the four finalists will receive a cash prize of $500 and the winner will receive another cash prize of $2000. The winner will then go on to compete for the Utah State Teacher of the Year award, an award that Salt Lake City School District has won for the last seven years. The winner of the Utah State Teacher of the Year will then move on to National Teacher of the Year competition.

On Aug. 5, 2015 the Salt Lake City School District winners were announced. Two Highland High School teachers received awards: biology teacher Doug Jorgenson won the District Teacher of the Year award, and Allan Young won the Special Education Teacher of the Year award. 

“I am honored to be chosen as the Teacher of the Year. However, notice how the title does not say ‘Best Teacher of the Year?’ There are so many wonderful, qualified, magnificent teachers out there who would qualify for this award. I am certainly not the best, but I do love teaching and I am grateful for this award and opportunity,” Jorgenson said. He believes that he may have won the award because of his many years of experience and his teaching philosophy. 

Jorgenson has been teaching life sciences for 19 years and has experience teaching biology, honors biology, AP biology, IB biology, biotechnology, agriculture and health. For Jorgenson, “teaching biology, the study of life, had always been a fulfilling experience.” And he hopes that his “students catch a glimpse of the beauty of nature and are able to develop a greater appreciation of nature and all life around them.”

Another thing that Jorgenson attributes to his success as a teacher is that in science it is a very hands on environment, which engages the students, including various experiments in labs. One of his most successful experiments is the use of the Highland Greenhouse, where his biology and agricultural science students receive hands on experience learning plant biology and greenhouse management. 

However, Jorgenson isn’t just teaching his students life sciences: he is also teaching his students sustainable practices while also giving back to the community. What he thinks is most valuable about the greenhouse is that “last year [his] students planted, raised and donated 400 tomato plants to Real Food Rising, a nonprofit organization who is tied in to Utahn’s Against Hunger.” 

“This gave my students a great opportunity to not only learn about plants but to also be part of something meaningful in helping other benefit from their hard work,” Jorgenson said.

His students also started a recycling and composting program. 

“My students encouraged students to throw away their food scraps to a special bin that in turn went to composting bins. The compost generated from thrown away cafeteria food then went back to vitalize the soil used in the greenhouse,” Jorgenson said.

Even for the Teacher of the Year, it can be hard at times for Jorgensen to do his job. Jorgenson loves teaching, however, “there are few things about teaching that are not positive – one of the most difficult things about being a teacher is dealing with external factors, usually issues that are related to adults,” Jorgenson said. 

He went on to explain that the teachers focus so much on the political issues surrounding education. He gave the example of how an emphasis is put on educating the above-average and the below-average learners, but not the students who fall in the middle. 

Despite teaching being difficult at times, Jorgenson loves his job and he’d rather focus on the positive aspects of teaching. 

“One of the great benefits of the teacher is that we can put politics aside and just focus on our students: that is the best part of the job, the students,” Jorgenson said.

 Jorgenson truly cares, he “sincerely believes that deep inside all students want to learn, they want to improve.”       λ