Rochester Century’s Natalia Benjamin awarded 2021 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

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(ABC 6 News) – Natalia Benjamin, an English learner and ethnic studies teacher at Century High School in Rochester, is the 2021 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

Benjamin is the 57th recipient of the prestigious award, the first from the Rochester district and the first Latinx teacher to be named Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

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“Learning languages has been a part of me for all of my life,” said Benjamin, who was born and raised in Guatemala, 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.”

A native Spanish speaker, Benjamin also grew up speaking, reading and writing French while attending a French school in Guatemala City. Later, she learned English in middle school and high school. She says the exposure to different languages prepared her to better understand a child’s language acquisition process.

“Natalia sets her students up for success by fostering a safe, positive and welcoming learning environment for every child,” wrote Molly Murphy, assistant principal at Century High School, 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 has been an EL teacher at Century since 2015. Before that, she had been a substitute teacher and a paraprofessional in the district for two years, and had taught language acquisition and foreign language classes for young learners in Idaho. She has held numerous leadership positions within Century High School and the Rochester district, in her local union and with statewide and national issues for Education Minnesota and the National Education Association. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a master’s in language acquisition and teaching, both from Brigham Young University in Utah.

Education Minnesota, an 86,000-member union, underwrites and organizes the Teacher of the Year program. The recipient is selected by an independent committee of education, business and government leaders. Pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers from private and public schools are eligible.