SHERIDAN — After an extensive, competitive process, Fort Mackenzie High School English teacher Mick Wiest has been named Wyoming Teacher of the Year by the Wyoming Department of Education.
Wiest was informed of his award this past weekend when he received a phone call from State Superintendent Cindy Hill while he was attending the Sheridan Broncs football game.
“It was such a delightful surprise and a very humbling surprise,” Wiest said. “I feel greatly honored but also very humbled.”
Sheridan County School District 2 Superintendent Craig Dougherty said he believes this is the first time the district has had one of its teachers selected for the award.
“Every district submits a teacher that will be in the pool of educators to be looked at as Wyoming Teacher of the Year,” Dougherty said. “And we’ve had several finalists but at least in my recollection, Wiest is the only one we’ve had that made it to the top.”
Wiest began his employment at FMHS in 2010, but has previously taught in Cody and Douglas, as well as Glendive, Mont. He has been a teacher for more than 25 years.
Wiest said some of his passion for education came from his mother. Wiest is a first generation American and said his mother, who was a German from Russia, was often awestruck by the freedoms she was afforded in America. Wiest said that keeping a free and democratic society requires an involved and educated electorate.
“I’ve committed to doing that in the small corner of the world I touch,” Wiest said. “It is one of the things that keeps me going, looking at these kids and thinking these kids will be making decisions about my Social Security in a few years! I want them to think critically and be able to problem solve.
“To be really honest, I pretty much get my energy from being around students,” he continued. “Some people often need downtime to recharge, but I am the type of person who gets recharged being around students and exchanging ideas. When you work with a student and you see the light bulb come on, there isn’t much that’s more rewarding than that.”
Kevin Lewis, a researcher and member of the team at the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office who judged the candidates, said not only does Wiest do an outstanding job of teaching students, but he helps teach other teachers as well.
“It is a big plus, being able to be a professional in the classroom and be a professional teacher around the state and helping other teachers improve,” he said. “It speaks very well of his tremendous professionalism.”
Lewis said the team from the Superintendent’s Office initially narrowed the field of candidates down to 10 and then conducted phone interviews. From the phone interviews, three top candidates were identified and Lewis then attended classes of each teacher to observe and evaluate them in the classroom.
“When you get to that point the top three are so good, it is very difficult to make a decision,” Lewis said. “He is truly an expert teacher in all regards. And it is not just our opinion, it is backed up by data.”
Dougherty said in past years, through the work of Wiest and other staff, the school has achieved 100 percent proficiency on some state standardized tests and this past year, the school had the highest ACT composite score of any high school in the state.
“But the most important thing, testing aside, is what he does with kids every day,” Dougherty said. “He has a way of engaging kids in learning that relates high expectations but relevance at the same time. He just has a way of making connections with kids and through that relationship he creates kids who are learners and want to earn at a high level.
“We couldn’t be happier,” he added. “He is a great model for all of us in how he is relentless in making sure every child views learning as a great opportunity. His work is stunning; there is not other way to put it. Basically, he emulates who we are as a district. He loves to learn and he loves to teach and he believes that all children can learn and learn by doing.”
Dougherty said Wiest will be recognized at the next SCSD 2 board of trustees meeting in November. Wiest will receive a $5,000 award from the state and is now a contender for national Teacher of the Year. As part of his responsibilities, Wiest will attend several conferences around the state and across the country in the coming year.
“If it follows the pattern (of past winners), there are four or five national level conferences I will attend,” Wiest said. “Some are policy making or providing policy recommendations at a national level, so that is pretty cool, to have a little bit of voice in the shape of education around the nation.”