A teacher at Century High School in Rochester is the 2021 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
Natalia Benjamin, who is a high school English learner and ethnic studies teacher in the Rochester school district, was named Teacher of the Year on Wednesday. She is the first teacher in the district and first Latinx teacher to receive the prestigious award, an Education Minnesota news release says.
“Learning languages has been a part of me for all of my life,” Benjamin wrote in an essay submitted to the Minnesota Teacher of the Year selection panel. “My personal experiences with languages created a passion and appreciation for multiple languages and cultures. Many of my students are navigating new cultures and places. I hope that I can be a small part of their journey in succeeding as they follow their dreams.”
Benjamin was born and raised in Guatemala and grew up speaking, reading and writing French while attending a French school in Guatemala City. In middle school and high school, she learned English.
She says her exposure to different languages helped prepare her to better understand a child's language acquisition process.
Benjamin has been an EL teacher at Century High School since 2015. Prior to that, she was a substitute and paraprofessional in the district and taught language acquisition and foreign language classes for young learners in Idaho.
“Natalia sets her students up for success by fostering a safe, positive and welcoming learning environment for every child,” Molly Murphy, assistant principal at Century High School, wrote in a letter supporting Benjamin’s nomination. “She has an ability to vary instruction and adjust lessons to meet student needs. Natalia creates an open, supportive environment with mutual respect among the students.”
Benjamin, who has a bachelor's degree in molecular biology and a master's in language acquisition and teaching from Brigham Young University, has held leadership positions at Century High School and the Rochester school district, as well as in her local union and with statewide and national issues for Education Minnesota and the National Education Association.
Benjamin is the 57th teacher to receive the Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.