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Gilbert High English teacher receives national honor

Kiley Wellendorf
Ames Tribune
Gilbert High School English teacher Tracy Tensen teaches in her class Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Gilbert, Iowa.

A Gilbert High teacher received a national award as a result of her ongoing dedication to students and her craft.

Tracy Tensen, a 12th grade English teacher at Gilbert, is the second Iowan in 20 years to receive the "High School Teacher of Excellence" from the National Council of Teachers of English. 

The honor is the highest recognition for English teachers, according to Cathy Anderson, Gilbert High English teacher and coworker of Tensen's who nominated her for the award. Due to the pandemic, Tensen will be presented the award virtually in late November during the annual conference.

"My grandmother was an English teacher and she was kind of a mentor to me — especially when I first started teaching," Tensen said. "It's such an honor, and I feel like it would have meant a lot to her. I'm very surprised and honored."

Prior to receiving the national honor, Tensen's coworkers, former students and Gilbert High principal submitted recommendations where they highlighted Tensen's dedication to students and the district.

Vic Vanderpool, Gilbert High principal, said everyone was thrilled to learn she had won.

"She's an outstanding person," Vanderpool said. "She cares greatly for the profession and the kids." 

Anderson said Tensen "makes her students feel valued," adding that she genuinely cares about "each and every one of them." 

"I occasionally run into former students, and when I ask them how school's going, they often mention how thankful they are for having had Mrs. Tensen," Anderson said. "She pushes them, but they learn to write well and efficiently, and they're very grateful for that."

Anderson said she keeps her door open during her teacher prep period so she can hear Tensen teach students from down the hall.

"It's like attending a fantastic college class every day," Anderson said. 

Gilbert High School English teacher Tracy Tensen teaches in her class Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Gilbert, Iowa.

Tensen first discovered her love of literature while studying "The Great Gatsby" in her 10th grade English class, she said, as her teacher was both academic and passionate about teaching.

She loved both English and theatre in high school, so she decided it would be a good fit to combine those two. 

Tensen loves poetry, she said, and noted one of her many quirks is to memorize it. 

"She's the smartest person I know and generously shares her wisdom with the rest of us," Anderson said. "For example, if I go into her room thinking about having my students read a certain book, not only has she read it, but she quotes lines from it."

Prior to teaching 12th-grade composition at Gilbert, Tensen taught English at multiple institutions: DMACC, Iowa State University, Ankeny High School, South East Polk High School and the Jefferson-Scranton High School. 

Gilbert has been her home for over the last eight years, she said, and has been a place that's encouraged her ideas.

"This feels like a really good fit for me," Tensen said. "They really let me be creative and they encourage me to try new things and stay current."

Gilbert High School English teacher Tracy Tensen poses in her class Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Gilbert, Iowa.

Being with students makes her really happy, she said. 

"They bring so much energy and they offer just such critical thinking and response to literature," Tensen said."They’re just so fun."

Tensen said she feels honored to be this year's recipient. 

"I do feel really lucky to teach here, and I just feel really honored to be chosen for this," Tensen said.