As an educator in a small school district in Bayfield, Wis., Richard Erickson (’84) teaches a gamut of lessons in chemistry, physics, and alternative education. It came as quite a surprise to him when State Superintendent Tony Evers announced during a school assembly that Erickson had been named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year. However one look at his 20-year dedication to community and school reveals why he was chosen for this honor.
Erickson graduated from UMD in 1984 with a degree in teaching physical science. He spent the first decade of his career in a suburb of St. Paul and then made his move to Bayfield, Wis., in 1994. Even though he’d taught chemistry and physics for the last 30 years, he also earned his certification for alternative education about three years ago.
Erickson openly admits he has a preference for projects that take place outside the school with most of the focus centering on Lake Superior.
One of Erickson’s most popular and successful programs is the Science Mentors program for member schools in the Cooperative Educational Service Agency 12. So far, seven science mentor kits have been developed, allowing high school students to teach science to elementary school students using interactive demonstrations.
Erickson also developed the Apostle Islands Experiential Learning Program with funding from the National Parks Foundation. Through this program, students participate in a variety of service learning projects with the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “Students learn best when they are engaged in their learning — learning by doing and connecting lessons to what is pertinent in their own daily lives,” Erickson said.
Building positive relationships is an integral part of his teaching. “When students believe their teachers truly care about them as unique individuals and care about their successes, then students are more likely to become engaged in the entire learning process,” said Erickson.
During Evers’ assembly announcement, he agreed that, “For our students to succeed, we need great educators in our schools. These teachers have been recognized by their peers, students, and parents as caring, committed educators, and they are now being honored with this award. They represent the quality educators in Wisconsin who are working every day to make a difference in the lives of our young children, helping prepare them for a successful future.”
In addition to Erickson’s work in the classroom, he serves as a volunteer at Red Cross blood drives in the region. He also helps organize community-centered service learning activities for alternative education students. Projects included creating hiking trails in Bayfield, La Pointe, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and Frog Bay Tribal National Park (the first Tribal National Park in the United States).
While teaching has its challenges, Erickson believes it’s about making connections. “I’ve been very fortunate to fall into a career I love,” he said. “I have a lot of passion for it, and I try to convey to my students that the things they’re passionate about should be pursued.” As part of the Teacher of the Year honor, Erickson will receive $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.
(Article provided by the Wisconsin Education Association Council)
Local TV news station WDIO also covered the story. See a video interview with Ricahrd Erickson by visiting WDIO’s story by clicking here.