All students and teachers at Lincoln School in Pontiac were assembled in the school gymnasium on Tuesday for a special presentation from the Pontiac Kiwanis Club.
    After a brief introduction from Principal Mike Weaver, Jon Kilgore, Kiwanis Club Educator of the Year committee chairman, entered the gym to announce that this year’s award recipient was in the audience.
    Before he announced Sara Gschwendtner as the winner, Kilgore gave a bit of background on the award. All schools within the 270-square-mile radius of Pontiac Township High School District 90 are eligible to nominate a finalist from their school each year. A committee of Kiwanis members discuss the nominations to decide who will be awarded.
    Gschwendtner, a third grade teacher at Lincoln School, was nominated by Weaver. In his nomination submission, the principal noted Gschwendtner’s sensitivity toward her students.
    “She is a teacher who naturally engages and challenges students to do their best,” Weaver wrote. “As a veteran teacher, she also is very flexible and willing to try different teaching strategies to reach her students.”
     Gschwendtner has been teaching for a total of 24 years and has spent all but three of those years in District 429. In 1994, she started working for the district as a third grade teacher at Washington  School. Then, in 2009, when the district transitioned into attendance centers, she moved to Lincoln School, where she continues to teach third grade.
    “What keeps me teaching are the kids,” Gschwendtner said. “The faces may change, but I have enjoyed teaching them every year. They keep me young and when they get excited to learn, I am excited to teach.”
    Gschwendtner typically gets to school about an hour before her students enter the classroom. Once the school day begins, she teaches a math block in the morning and then typically teaches language arts in the afternoon.
    “Student access to the Chromebooks has really changed the way that I teach,” she said. “They don’t make it easier or harder, it’s just different. I like that I can stay up-to-date on all of the websites and curriculum out there.”
    Gschwendtner said the key to being a good educator is having a love for children. However, she  also commended her fellow teachers and staff for their efforts.
    “I work with excellent people who keep me motivated,” she said. “My advice to future teachers is, ‘put the kids first.’ You really have to enjoy spending time with them and put them first. If you are constantly thinking of them, then everything else will be easier. It won’t necessarily fall into place all of the time, but it will make things a lot easier.”
    After she received the award, Gschwendtner was informed that her immediate family was in the gym to see her accept the award.
    “I wasn’t expecting my family to show up,” she said. “It was a nice surprise, they are very supportive.”
    Weaver commended Gschwendtner for her ability to reach her students.
    “You can tell that Mrs. Gschwendtner genuinely cares about her students, both in and outside of the classroom,” Weaver said. “She knows how the students function and whether or not they are having a bad day or a good day. Most importantly, she knows how to help students through those tough days.
    “She is excellent when it comes to academics, she has a great experience base to pull from with good teaching strategies. It’s something I think she should be commended for.”