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Mom’s vision, Jensen’s desire to teach earns her Teacher of Year 5/31/22

Mom’s vision, Jensen’s desire to teach earns her Teacher of Year 

By Kevin Taylor 

Alma Schools 


Her red dress shined brightly as the bright lights of the Alma Performing Art Center glittered from high above. 


But the red dress and the fact that everyone was staring at Lisa Jensen paled in comparison to the heartache within. 


“Today (May 27) is a hard day. It was five years ago today that I lost my mother (Darlene Wahman),” a tearful Jensen said. 


Darlene is a big reason Jensen came home to teach school. Well, sort of. 


“I graduated from college at semester and I was ready to go to work,” Jensen said. “When I left for Texas (Larado), my mom didn’t even see me off — she was unhappy about me going off so far away.”


Not to worry, Darlene Wahman had a plan. 


“She would call Mr. (Charles) Dyer once a week to see if Alma had any openings,” kids Jensen, a 1985 CHS grad. 


“Finally,” Jensen continued, “Mr. Dyer called her to tell her to come home.”


Thirty-two years later, Lisa Jensen is one of the most beloved teachers at Alma Primary School. 


Last week, Jensen was voted by her peers as the Teacher of the Year for Alma schools. 


“She’s hard to explain,” APS principal Shawn Bullard said. “I go and observe her, and I try to tell new teachers how she does things because everything is so fluid - everything is so smooth. She’s instructing and redirecting kids so seamlessly.”


Education, Jensen said, is about “problem-solving.” Teachers are “the Kings and Queens of second chances,” she said.


And, as she learned way back in 1990, about adjusting on the fly. 


“It’s hard to put 32 years into words,” Jensen said. “I can’t even imagine what 50 (years) is like for Mr. (David) Woolly. Just to have peers support you and recognize that teaching is a hard job, this means a lot.”


A second-grade teacher at APS, Jensen’s most but not all of her Alma career teaching in one building. 


But it was the one year she taught fourth grade that really opened her eyes. 


“There was a need for someone from the Primary to move the Intermediate school,” Jensen said. “I visited the school, met with (former principal) Mr. Warnock, and felt like it was just the right thing to do,” Jensen said. “I remember Mr. Warnock said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to pair you with a brand new teacher.’ I thought, ‘You know I’ve never taught fourth grade before, right?’


“As it turned out, I was paired with Trisha Sanders. He was right; we were instant friends.”


Warnock was right about fourth grade, too. 


“Teaching fourth grade was a real eye-opener,” Jensen said. “I was shocked to see how much they had learned, and how wide the gap was for many students. I literally learned more switching grades than I did getting my master's degree.”


Jensen wasn’t done changing schools. 


“The very next year there was a need for a first-grade teacher, so I went back, but it was different now,” she said. “I was bound and determined to get these first graders ready for fourth grade. The year after that, second grade needed a teacher, so I moved to second grade with my class and I have been there ever since.”


Jensen’s advice to young teachers is the same as what she often talks about with experienced ones, too. 


“How can I convince someone to join me in becoming a teacher, the greatest profession on earth? I used to think that I became a teacher because I thought I liked to teach,” Jensen explained. “But I discovered what I really liked is to learn. When you’re a teacher, you learn something new every day, from professional development, from your peers, and mostly from your students. 


“Every change I’ve made in my lesson plans is because a student made me think differently.”


“If you like to learn, you should become a teacher. Teachers have to talk … a lot,” she said. “But we also have to listen. We listen to our ideas, our successes, and our struggles. 


“Sometimes, we have to listen to things that no one should have to hear about a student’s life.”


“When COVID hit (2020), and everything shut down, she jumped in,” Bullard said. “She and a few others jumped in and led the way for our staff. She’s just phenomenal — that’s the word I would use to describe her.”


“Education is problem-solving; trying to figure out how every student learns,” Jensen said. “You use that to teach to learn what they need to know.”