Winona student is a Winona teacher

By Elliot Mann

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Second-grade teacher Luke Merchlewitz each day walks the halls of Winona’s Washington-Kosciusko Elementary School. He’s comfortable there, just as he was years ago as a second-grade student.

Merchlewitz, who has been teaching for 25 years, first got the teaching bug as a sixth-grader. He credits teacher Bernie Wallerich with sparking his interest.

"He was an influential educator," said Merchlewitz, himself a product of Winona area public schools. "We were always hatching chicken eggs or doing something fun in his class."


Merchlewitz is one of three southeastern Minnesotans who are finalists for the state’s teacher of the year award. The others are Folwell Elementary School third-grade teacher Michael Olson and Century High School English teacher Catarina Alme. The winner from the 11 finalists will be announced May 3.

Merchlewitz starts every class with a song and also uses music between classroom activities. At first, some students are reluctant to join in, but eventually many come around. It helps with warming up before activities and also lets the youngsters expend some energy, he said.

They also mix songs based on the day. Earlier this week, the class sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," in recognition of the start of the Major League Baseball season.

"(The Twins) lost the first day, so the kids said, ‘We’re not singing that one again!’" he joked.

Humble pie

A theme that each of the three area finalists drove home was humility — as each in their own words said many of their colleagues should be finalists themselves.

"I want people to know that this is indicative of so many teachers in our district," Olson said. "This recognition, so many teachers are deserving of it. Even just in this building, so many teachers are deserving."

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