Patrick Moller

Teacher of the Year - South Dakota


I learned how to iron a shirt.

When promoting a new idea, people will get lost in the distractions unless you address them, or eliminate them. People will never pay attention to the new idea I am presenting if there is a wrinkle in my shirt for them to focus on. Paying attention to details and preparing thoroughly gives me the best chance to successfully deliver my message. Eliminating the wrinkles will improve my chance of reaching my audience with an impactful message. Wrinkles in or during a message can unintentionally change or even ruin its impact for students and for adults.


Everything in education is political.

I challenge anyone to come up with anything that impacts education that is not rooted in politics. From the curriculum to what kind of toilet paper is used in the bathrooms at my school, there is a decision that is made with possible political implications. Once I realized this, I knew it was important for me to gain a deeper understanding of the political process. In doing this, I started to understand that people outside my classroom desperately want most of the same things I want, and want to improve the same things I want to improve. I found that I needed to build a relationship of mutual respect with educational leaders in order to maximize my impact beyond my classroom. I learned that when I work with the leaders in my state to develop policies that my colleagues and I will support rather than waiting for the policy makers to create policies that I oppose, the results benefit students the most.


It is more important to choose a few things to do extremely well than to choose to do everything but do nothing well.

I am the 2012 South Dakota Teacher of the Year because I do a few things extremely well. I foster relationships of trust, promoting curiosity and a desire to learn within my classroom. I implement lessons that interest my students beyond the mathematics that I am teaching. I focus on the students and their needs first as without that, the learning opportunities are extremely limited. Once given this award, many more opportunities have presented themselves, and I thought it was my responsibility to deliver on all of them. Over the course of the next several months, I stretched myself thin, between coaching responsibilities, teaching responsibilities, speaking engagements, workshops, advisory committees, and responsibilities as a father and a husband. After one particularly long day, while talking (ok, maybe it was complaining) to my supportive wife Michele, she asked me one question that forced me to look at everything differently.  She simply asked “What are you doing well?”  I thought about that question a lot and I realized that I wasn’t even doing things well for which I had received my award. Since then, I am trying to be more selective with my time, so when I do choose to devote time to something, it is to do it well.


It is finally a time in education when we are done talking about change and starting to implement change.

Throughout this year I have had the opportunity to see some amazing presentations by people that are committed to improving education in America. I have heard about changes that are occurring now, across our country, in impactful ways. These changes include implementation of Common Core Standards, development of College and Career Readiness Standards, changes to teacher prep programs, and changes to teacher evaluation methods. These changes have the potential to dramatically improve our educational system and ultimately do a better job of preparing our students for the world ahead of them.


Laughter is the key to success.

I believe that laughter is appropriate in almost every situation. Humor warms the heart and allows students to open up and feel comfortable in my classrooms. It allows colleagues to relax. It allows people to see the good things in every situation rather than focusing on the negative. It allows people to see the potential and not be stopped by the potential roadblocks. I am an eternal optimist; an idealist; one that believes there is potential in every situation, inside and outside a classroom. This is the message I convey to my students. I want them to see the possibilities in their lives regardless of their situation outside my classroom. I want them to embrace their potential and laugh off their naysayers. I want them to find joy in their lives and hold on to it, even when the weight of the negativity around them seems impossible to bear. This weight can often be lessened through laughter. I am able to think this way because I am not afraid to laugh, to laugh at myself and laugh with others, to focus on the joy and happiness that is present everywhere, to turn perceived negatives into possibilities and opportunities. This is what makes me who I am.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Patrick Moller is the 2012 South Dakota Teacher of the Year. He has been a teacher with the Mitchell School District for nine years, teaching math and physics at the high school as well as 7th grade math at the middle school. He also coaches boys' and girls' varsity tennis at MHS and basketball at MMS. Pat has a master's degree in education and educational leadership from Southwest Minnesota State University. He has obtained multiple grants for use in his classroom, including the National Education Association's Innovation grant, and most recently the Teachers and Technology grant. He has presented at several conferences on Cognitively Guided Instruction in the Middle School Mathematics Classroom. Patrick is a former president of the Mitchell Education Association and has most recently been honored with The Teacher of Excellence award from California Casualty.

Patrick and his wife Michele are the proud parents of two daughters: Amber, who is seven, and Marissa, who is fourteen. When not involved in his job or with his family, Patrick enjoys reading and fishing.