Nelson is semifinalist for Teacher of the Year

Among the best — that’s where Milaca educator Andrew Nelson stands after being named as one of 33 semifinalists for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.
A selection panel of 25 community leaders chose the semifinalists from an initial field of 128 candidates from throughout the state. That panel will meet again in late March to trim the list to 10 names.
Current Teacher of the Year Megan Olivia Hall is slated to name her successor at a banquet May 4 in Bloomington.
Education Minnesota, the 70,000-member statewide educators union, works to organize and underwrite this program. Candidates for this top award include pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers in public and private schools.
Nelson, who oversees the Milaca band program, works with students in grades eight through 12. Nelson also serves as the senior class adviser.
A native of Litchfield,  Nelson graduated from high school in 1988 and spent five years at St. Cloud State University pursuing his Bachelors of Science in Instrumental Music Education. He then spent two years at St. Mary’s University, where he received his master’s degree in education.
To date he has logged 21 years of instruction, with 11 of those years in Milaca.
His teaching and directing duties include three concert bands, one jazz ensemble, a pep band, a summer marching band, and numerous solos and ensembles. He works with approximately 170 students, with more than 200 expected to be a part of the program next year.
His favorite part of his job, he said, is “watching kids succeed and being a part of that process.”
“Success means a lot of different things for different students,” he said. “It ranges from getting a few notes right to making the all-state band.
“It’s all amazing to see a moment happen where a student ‘gets it’ or where an ensemble you are conducting creates a ‘magical musical’ moment.”
While Nelson has had several proud moments over the years, there is one event that stands out for him.
“This year, conducting at the veterans concert was really a highlight of my career. When we were finished performing ‘Arlington, Where Giants Lie Sleeping,’ I turned to acknowledge the audience … and there were veterans with tears in their eyes. That was amazing.
“We did what we intended: We reached into their hearts.”
Come August, Nelson will be married to his high school sweetheart, Christine, for 20 years.
“We were in band throughout high school together and met at all-state band tryouts,” he said.
She works as a marketing consultant with a firm in St. Paul; she also teaches flute lessons occasionally and serves as the color guard instructor.
The couple have two daughters, Natalie, 13 and Nicole, 10.
Nelson said he strongly believes Milaca “is a great community to teach band in.”
“I have had the opportunity to teach in larger schools and enjoyed it very much. But teaching band in this town is a very important endeavor. It means a lot in the community to have a good band,” he said.
While Nelson likes teaching here, he points to the students and support he receives from top to bottom.
“The kids that are here really appreciate music-making,” Nelson said. “This is a place where every day you can have positive interactions with students. … They come to the classroom ready to work, … to improve and achieve.
“I also have amazing support from parents and administration in Milaca, first class all of the way,” he said.
Nelson said he’s honored to reach the semifinals for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
“It’s a great honor to receive, and I am humbled and thankful for those who contributed to my portfolio I had to submit. People said nice things, and I appreciate it so much,” he said.