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The final four

| Judy Berthiaume

A Blugold is one of four teachers in the United States still in the running for the 2017 National Teacher of the Year Award.

Chris Gleason, who earned his degree in music education from UW-Eau Claire in 1997, learned this week that he’s a finalist for the nation’s top teaching honor.

“I am honored and humbled to be considered a finalist for the National Teacher of the Year award,” says Gleason, the band director and instrumental music teacher at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie. “I do not consider myself to be the ‘best’ teacher in America, Wisconsin or even in my building. All across Wisconsin and our country there are amazing teachers doing great work each and every day to benefit our children. I would love to have the opportunity to be a spokesperson for them.”

Gleason is the first Wisconsin teacher in 50 years to be named a national finalist for the award, considered the most prestigious national honor that focuses on excellence in teaching.

Only one Wisconsin teacher — in 1961 — has ever won the top honor in the program’s 65-year history.

In early February, Gleason, who was named Wisconsin’s Teacher of the Year this fall, will travel to Dallas to meet the other state winners. They will spend three days together doing professional development and sharing ideas.

He then will travel to Washington, D.C., in early March for two days of interviews by a selection committee, with members who represent the major national education organizations.

The National Teacher of the Year winner will be announced in April. Traditionally, the winner has been introduced by the president of the United States.

The teacher selected for the national honor will spend the next year traveling the country to represent educators, and to advocate on behalf of teachers and students.

“As the spokesperson, I would take the opportunity to communicate and validate the reasons why we teach,” Gleason says of his plans should he win the honor. “I would do this to inspire my colleagues currently in the teaching profession, to rebuild the public’s positive perception of teachers and to encourage our youth to consider this noble profession.”

The UW-Eau Claire graduate’s passion for teaching, as well as his talent for nurturing and inspiring his students in ways that help them use their gifts to excel in band and in life, earned him the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year honor and put him in the running for the national honor.

With parents who also were educators, teaching always has been part of Gleason’s world.

But it was at his father’s funeral nearly a year ago that he fully realized the power of Henry Adams’ quote: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

“I grew up in my father’s band room,” says Gleason, who has been teaching for 19 years. “I remember watching him teach and inspire students. Like many teachers, he put in long hours at school and then came home to do more planning for the next day. He had an incredible gift of making you feel like you were the most important person in the room. His high expectations and persistence made it evident that he was committed to your success.

“At his funeral, my mother, brother and I were greeted by a long line of former students who came to pay respects to a man who made a profound difference in their lives. As the brass ensemble consisting of former students concluded their performance of 'Salvation Is Created,' I was reminded of the lifelong impact we all have as educators.”

While he credits his parents — accomplished musicians and educators — with instilling in him a passion for music and teaching, Gleason credits UW-Eau Claire with helping him turn that passion into a rewarding career by broadening his perspectives and nurturing his desire to educate young people through music.

“What impressed me most about UWEC wasn’t anything that would show up as a number,” says Gleason, noting that some of the faculty he studied under continue to be mentors and friends today. “It was the care and attention the professors gave you. It was the family-like environment created within departments and on campus. It was the respect given to young people eager to pursue their dreams.”

It was at UW-Eau Claire that he met his wife, Erin, who also is a music educator, as well classmates who became lifelong friends.

“Clearly, my coursework and professors had a huge impact on preparing me,” Gleason says of his alma mater. “However, my fellow Blugolds also had a significant impact on me. The students I attended UWEC with are some of my best friends and colleagues today. They are all amazing, successful people who continue to do great things. When I think back to those years, it was a magical time of interacting with some brilliant minds and passionate individuals.”

While at UW-Eau Claire, Gleason was an accomplished tuba artist, performing as principal tubist with the UW-Eau Claire Symphony Band and University Orchestra, Wind Symphony, Concert Orchestra and BASSically Brass. He also was a member of The Singing Statesmen and was a regular soloist on campus

He now is introducing his young band students to UW-Eau Claire and its music program and faculty.

For the second year, this fall he and his colleague, Sharon Haraldson (also a UW-Eau Claire music education graduate) brought their seventh-grade band students to campus to participate in side-by-side experiences with current Blugolds.

His fall visit to UW-Eau Claire focused on music, but Gleason hopes to soon return to campus to encourage talented students to consider a career in teaching.

“It is my goal to share the good news about this life-changing, noble profession,” Gleason says. “The most important component to all improvement in education comes down to the teacher. We need to encourage our best and brightest students to become future educators.”

Teachers must seize every opportunity to influence, shape and uplift young peoples’ lives, Gleason says.

“Education is so much more than just a test score or even the content of our curriculum,” Gleason says. “Who we are is just as important as what we teach or learn. Educators have the responsibility to model passion, persistence and the love of learning. We must make connections with each and every child, proving to them that they are unconditionally important to us.”

He wants people to recognize the difficult and complex work done by educators, Gleason says.

“During the past decade, we have learned more about how diverse and distinct intelligence is,” Gleason says. “Excellent teachers navigate not only different learning styles but also emotional, social, physical, economic and ethnic differences among students.

“As educators, our work is never complete. We constantly contemplate and wrestle with ways to better reach and inspire all students.”

Photo caption: Chris Gleason, a UW-Eau Claire music education grad and Wisconsin's 2016 Teacher of the Year, brought his middle school band students to campus this fall to learn from and play alongside current Blugold students and music faculty. Gleason learned this week that he’s a finalist for the nation’s top teaching honor.