'I love little people' says Michelle Rathmann, Destin Elementary 'Teacher of the Year'
For second-grade teacher Michelle Rathmann, the 2020-21 school year will be one to remember.
Not only is it her last year to teach after serving 35 years in Okaloosa County, but she was recently named Destin Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
"I did not expect it at all. It is a huge honor. ... It really was, truly," Rathmann said.
"It is such an honor to represent such a phenomenal faculty, staff and group of people," she added.
The selection process for Teacher of the Year is a vote by instructional staff, according to Destin Elementary Principal Joe Janazzo.
"Mrs. Rathmann is everything that a parent wants in a teacher — knowledgeable, responsive and above all, caring," Janazzo said.
"I share this as a principal, but also from firsthand experience with two of my children having had the pleasure of being in her class. Mrs. Rathmann will be retiring at the end of this year, and it is awe-inspiring to think about the days and hours of instruction she has provided students over the years," he said.
"We are proud to have Mrs. Rathmann representing Destin Elementary as our Teacher of the Year," Janazzo added.
Rathmann is a product of Okaloosa education herself, having graduated from Choctawhatchee High School. She also is a graduate of Florida State University and earned her master's degree from the University of West Florida.
She taught first grade at Florosa Elementary School for 27 years before making the move to second grade at Destin Elementary.
"This is my final year," said Rathmann, who noted that she's been at Destin for eight years.
Rathmann team teaches with Mallory Hallberg. Rathmann handles math and science, while Hallberg does language arts and social studies with the students.
Rathmann didn't always team teach.
"I had always been self-contained," she said.
But three years ago a fellow teacher convinced her to give it a try and she loves it.
She now gets to focus on math and science. Her degree is in mathematics education.
"I've really enjoyed it and wish I had done it sooner," she said.
Rathmann loves teaching second grade because the students are a little more independent and can do more things on their own than a first-grader who needs step-by-step instruction.
"They still love school and they want to learn so desperately," Rathmann said of second-graders.
"They are very enthusiastic about school. They haven't lost that joy of coming to school and love for school. They still appreciate every little thing. You don't even realize some of the things that stick with them. You still make a huge impact, you can see it on their faces," she said.
Rathmann said there was a moment when she almost wanted to try teaching on the middle-school level.
She did her student teaching in fourth grade, but soon found out that was not for her.
"I said no. ... I like little people because they are like little sponges and they want to know more," she said.
Rathmann's last year of teaching has been a bit different because of the coronavirus, and she, like others, have had to make adjustments.
There are hand sanitizers throughout the classroom and each child sits behind a see-though panel in rows.
"I have never in 35 years, never, have had children sit in rows," Rathmann said.
"They have always been in groups working together as teams. I have never had people isolated. I can't wait for them to experience it ... and how to build relationships with people," she said.
"It breaks my heart for them. ... I miss that," she said.
When Rathmann closes this chapter of her life at the end of the school year, she says it's the children she will miss the most.
"People say they have changed. No they haven't; they haven't changed in 35 years. ... The things that are going on in the world have changed, But they are the same as they were 35 years ago," Rathmann said.
"They are still innocent," she added.
"I'll miss the children."