In her annual lab, Four Rivers Career Center teacher Melissa Ziegler shows students how to transfer jellyfish genes into E. coli until the bacteria glow under a black light.
“We learn as much from our mistakes and the things that go wrong as we do when it goes right,” she said.
Ziegler is celebrating her 20th year with the district and the honor of being named one of two 2021 Regional Teachers of the Year by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
Her application was one of 114 from around the state, from which DESE gave 35 regional awards, the department’s assistant director Curtis Terry said. The other local winner was sixth grade math teacher Regina Moyers of the Potosi R-III School District in Washington County.
After being recognized regionally, Ziegler has the option to compete for the statewide 2022 Missouri Teacher of the Year title, and she said she will vie for the spot. The winner interacts with politicians, members of the Missouri State School Board and other leaders to help shape statewide and local education policies.
“It’s really, for me, about being able to have a voice when so many decisions are being made about teaching and about our students,” she said. “I want teachers to be seen as the professionals that they are.”
Ziegler is entering her third year as a biomedical science instructor through the career center’s Project Lead The Way program, which offers a hands-on approach to lesson plans.
In her previous 17 years with the Washington School District, she has worked as a special education teacher at South Point Elementary School, a fifth grade teacher at Clearview Elementary School, a science teacher at Washington Middle School and an instructional coach for teachers and faculty, a position in which she introduced STEM learning to the elementary schools.
“I really love what I do, and I wouldn’t be here without being able to work with amazing teachers,” she said.
Terry said the regional winners could have been nominated either by an individual in the community or by the district as a whole, and Ziegler said she was nominated by the Washington School District. She also was named the 2020 School District of Washington and WINGS teacher of the year.
Ziegler’s nomination letter for the districtwide award reads: “In order to teach the courses she does, she has completed rigorous training through Project Lead the Way. The training requires her to be away from home for two weeks while totally immersed in the curriculum she teaches in the program. The students engage at such high levels under her direction.”
Ziegler, 50, was born in Washington and lived there until age 5, when she moved to Union. She graduated from Union High School, got her bachelor’s of science degree in elementary education from Southeast Missouri State University and attended Missouri Baptist University to obtain her master’s of science degree in education while becoming certified to teach special education.
As she receives regional recognition and prepares for another school year, she said she plans to some day go back to school to finish her specialist degree or get a Ph.D. in education.
“I’m not finished learning yet,” she said. “It’s just about having an open mind.”