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Lifelong Learning

Moorhead Teacher of the Year encourages students to be lifelong learners

February 2, 2018

Michael Benson, eighth-grade social studies teacher at Horizon Middle School East Campus, wants to be a positive role model for students.

“I try to do everything I can to help students succeed, feel wanted and give them every opportunity to feel important,” Benson said. “I want their experience at Horizon to be one they will remember as a positive turning point in their life. I want every student to know someone cared about them.”

Benson, who has been a teacher in the district since 2000, has been named the 2018 Moorhead Teacher of the Year. He taught Title I math and reading at Thomas Edison Elementary before becoming a social studies teacher first at Moorhead Junior High and now at Horizon Middle School. Prior to that he worked in the district as a paraprofessional, in-school suspension supervisor and substitute.

Benson earned an associate’s degree from North Dakota State College of Science and his bachelor’s degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead.

According to Jeremy Larson, principal of Horizon East, Benson always has the students’ best interest in every decision he makes.

“Each year he seems to modify his environment and classroom to meet the needs of the students of that year,” Larson said. “He works to make a connection with all of his students to ensure that they know he cares about not just their academics but also their well-being.”

The Education Moorhead Communications Committee, which selected Benson as the 2018 Moorhead Teacher of the Year, acknowledged his qualities as a teacher.

“Mr. Benson has many wonderful qualities that make him one of Moorhead’s top teachers: hard-working, compassionate, dedicated, supportive, and constantly displaying a positive attitude. Mike Benson is a student-centered teacher and builds relationships with students, colleagues and staff of Moorhead School District that promote the love of lifelong learning,” the committee said in a statement.

Benson also has served on the building leadership team and has coordinated various activities over the years, including the early years of after-school programming at Moorhead Junior High. He is in his third year as social studies department chair at Horizon and has been a co-coordinator of the Geography Bee for four years.

Additionally, Benson has spent hours creating a career and college environment on the eighth-grade floor at Horizon East.

“He helped create the college information area for students to review, and he hung up numerous college pennants for students to see all the many options that they could choose for a post-secondary education,” Larson said.

Benson’s three big influences to become a teacher were his fourth-grade teacher Mr. Houge, his grandmother and his wife.

Benson moved to Fergus Falls, Minn., in the middle of fourth grade.

“Mr. Houge always made sure to include me in anything the class was doing and gave me my interest in aquariums and reading,” he said.

His grandmother, who loved school, had to quit school in eighth grade because she was the oldest and had to help on the farm.

“She always taught me to thirst for knowledge and be the best person I can be,” Benson said.

Benson credits his wife for giving him the opportunity to go to college.

“She gave me that opportunity, and I am forever grateful to her for allowing my dream to come true,” he said.

Benson said he appreciated teachers who let students get to know them, who truly wanted to know students, and who wanted to see students succeed.

“I also enjoyed teachers who were positive, greeted you in the morning, and who really enjoyed their jobs,” he said. “I am eternally grateful to the teachers who went out of the way to help students, whether it was staying late to help them with homework or including students who were new, not popular, or shy in activities they would enjoy.”

Benson hopes he can be just as good a teacher and help students to be lifelong learners and people of good character.

“I want them to want to stretch their imaginations past just what they hear,” he said. “I want them to know why things are the way they are and to try to make them better. I want students to be positive leaders, who control theirs lives, not being controlled by others or by substance abuse. I love it when I see students involved in our community with acts of kindness and caring.”

Benson said his main message to eighth-graders is: “You are the one who is in control of you through your choices. Do not let anyone else make those choices for you. Only you can define you, so be the best you that you can be.”

Photo: Mike Benson, eighth-grade social studies teacher at Horizon Middle School East Campus and Moorhead Teacher of the Year, discusses a reading assignment about the experience of an undocumented immigrant with students as they work in small groups.

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