Tanya Archie wanted to be anywhere but there, waiting in a long line with other soon-to-be teachers at a packed job fair in Minneapolis.
But she needed to get a job interview, so she talked with a person who eventually asked her to interview with the Omaha Public Schools, and then she left.
Four months later, in the fall of 1996, Archie started what has become a 17-year career in education, including 14 with OPS. It's a career that now also includes a 2013 Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award.
Archie and 14 other OPS teachers will receive the award — a medallion, $10,000 cash and $500 in McDonald's gift certificates — during a ceremony Friday evening.
The award, presented since 1988, annually goes to 15 OPS teachers who are nominated and have at least two years of teaching experience. The award is named for an aunt of Omaha investor Warren Buffett who taught high school home economics in OPS for more than 35 years.
The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation sponsors the awards.
Archie's dislike for crowds led her to talk with only the OPS recruiter, and her fear of not having a job nudged her into teaching math.
She majored in math education and minored in music at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn., but some school districts were cutting music programs during the mid-1990s.
This semester, Archie is teaching algebra, Advanced Placement calculus and precalculus/trigonometry at Benson High, where she has been for three years.
She tries to teach life skills in class, she said, “and hopefully they'll learn some algebra along the way.”
She's also consistently pushing back against students who say math is optional for life success.
“There's a myth that it's OK to not know math,” Archie said.
People frequently joke about not doing well in math or never understanding the subject, she said, yet you never hear people bragging about not knowing how to read or write.
Students might not need to memorize the formulas or numeric equations they learn in class, she said, but they should learn how to problem-solve.
“You're building your brain to solve problems,” she said. “That's what math is — it's a puzzle.”
She admits not all of her students are convinced.
But she still enjoys her students the most.
“The best part of this job is the relationships with the students,” she said, “and it's definitely the worst.”
The worst because she used to get calls at 3 a.m. from students who were saying their mom or dad was doing drugs in the house.
Archie said she probably knew too much about her students then, earlier in her career.
Now that she is busier with two kids of her own, she has pulled back. For example, her students don't have her cell phone or home phone numbers as former students did.
But the longer-lasting relationships high school teachers get to have with their students is why Archie wanted to move to the high school level after teaching at Norris Middle School in OPS.
The desire to teach has always been there, before she lucked into a job interview with OPS and before she won teaching awards.
Archie used to play school with her sister, who is five years younger.
“I was giving my sister homework as soon as she could sit still and use a pen,” Archie said. “She didn't know what she was doing but I was her teacher.”
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2013 Buffett award winners
» Math teacher at Benson High School
» Bachelor of science from Northwestern College; master of arts from University of Nebraska at Omaha.
» 14 years with the Omaha Public Schools
A former student said: “Mrs. Archie is a very caring and a very patient teacher. She made class fun and interesting, which is difficult to do when you are teaching algebra.”
» Kindergarten teacher at Ashland Park-Robbins Elementary
» Bachelor of science from Iowa State University; master of science from UNO
» 20 years with OPS
A colleague said: “She is a master teacher who teaches the whole child. Social, emotional, academic and home life is all taken into account with all she does. She understands that students learn in different ways and she adjusts to that.”
» Sixth grade teacher at Springville Elementary
» Bachelor of science from UNO; master of arts from University of Nebraska-Lincoln
» 13 years with OPS
A former student said: “Great teachers have the potential to make a huge difference in a child's life, and I know that Mr. Derr had a huge impact on mine. My sixth-grade year is one of the happiest I can remember because I was downright excited to be going to school every day.”
» Language arts and art teacher for Integrated Learning Program
» Bachelor of arts and master of arts from Clark University
» Four years with OPS
A colleague wrote: “She has motivated numerous students to succeed in a way that they have never known. Students who have struggled all their lives with academics find themselves performing proficiently in writing, speaking and reading.”
» Counselor at Lewis & Clark Middle School
» Bachelor of science from Briar Cliff University; master of science from UNO
» 28 years with OPS
A student wrote: “Mrs. Lincoln is my biggest role model. She is an amazing counselor. She takes the time to listen to us and I can tell that we mean a lot to her. I hope to grow up to be just as caring, patient and amazing as she is!”
» Kindergarten teacher at Adams Elementary
» Bachelor of science and master of science from UNO
» 30 years with OPS
An admirer said: “She is a dedicated, caring educator who sees every child as an individual and who builds on each child's strengths to create a lifelong learner. Many of her students excel in school and Mrs. Lisko challenges them to do more.”
» Visually impaired teacher for OPS
» Bachelor of science from College of St. Mary; master of arts from UNL
» 20 years with OPS
A colleague said: “Lori Maestas is very skilled in her ability to teach the blind and low-vision students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. Many of her students have more to deal with than vision and Lori is always researching to find new equipment, new things to help stimulate and motivate the students.”
» First-grade teacher at Benson West Elementary
» Bachelor of arts from UNO
» 27 years with OPS
An admirer said: “What comes to mind first is her calmness and fairness in how she treats all students, fosters relationships with students who might be struggling and her willingness to have fun throughout so many years of teaching. She is patience and kindness personified, the very best kind of teacher, and she blesses every student who is lucky enough to spend first grade in her classroom.”
» Science teacher at Blackburn Alternative
» Bachelor of science from Morningside College; master of arts from University of South Dakota
» 11 years with OPS
A colleague wrote: “The student population at Blackburn presents challenging situations for the classroom teachers. Classroom management is not an issue for Nancy. She approaches teaching in a no-nonsense manner. Her expectations are precise and clear. This has earned her the respect and cooperation of her students.”
» Science teacher at Buffett Magnet Middle School
» Bachelor of science and master of arts from UNO
» Eight years with OPS
A student said: “Ms. Rosenberg believed in me when I didn't think I was good enough. By being a positive example in my life, I strived to be more like her. She is strong and independent. She is the type of person people go to for advice and to talk to about anything.”
» Kindergarten teacher at Fullerton Elementary
» Bachelor of science from UNO and master of science from Doane College
» 19 years with OPS
A parent wrote: “My daughter blossomed in her kindergarten year. She gained skills and confidence in all academic areas. And best of all, she developed a curiosity and thirst for knowledge that has yet to be quenched. She loves learning.”
» Kindergarten teacher at Gilder Elementary
» Bachelor of arts from College of St. Mary and master of science from Peru State College
» Eight years with OPS
A parent said: “The most amazing asset about Mrs. T. is that she helped foster my son's confidence in his learning ability. My husband and I saw a big change in his attitude toward school and learning in general. ... His confidence grew and his performance level rose amazingly.”
» Fifth-grade teacher at Dundee Elementary
» Bachelor of science from College of St. Mary
» 21 years with OPS
A colleague said: “She has a very student-centered, engaging classroom where she puts sound, best educational practices to work. She maximizes the entire school day to insure her fifth grade students will be successful both academically and socially.”
» Third-grade teacher at Liberty Elementary
» Bachelor of arts from Midland University; master of science from UNO
» 32 years with OPS
A parent wrote: “My son came into her classroom shy and nervous and below grade level in all subjects. She helped him become a more confident student and moved him up six reading levels. Her excitement for learning passed on to our son, who had been very reluctant to come to school.”
» Vocal music teacher at Springville and Sherman Elementary Schools
» Bachelor of music from Butler University and master of arts from Creighton University
» 13 years with OPS
A colleague said: “Ms. Wood teaches more than music. She teaches valuable life lessons. She helps our students appreciate their differences while working together. Ms. Wood encourages our students to learn and grow.”