Julie Busch taught third grade to Tim Dwight, a wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers football team. Or so recalls the 34-year veteran teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School, Iowa City, Iowa.
Dwight remembers her more as a coach: "She knew how to motivate her students in different ways, enabling them to flourish in the classroom. She was pretty tough in class. She wanted me to excel in the classroom as well, and that forced me to focus on goals outside of sports."
For that influence, which stayed with him through high school, college and into the pros, Dwight nominated Busch as NFL Teacher of the Year. And she won: $11,000 for Twain and a trip to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu for herself.
"But it's not winning the award that I'm most proud of," says Busch, a member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Iowa City. "It's the nomination that means the world to me--that someone took the time to say I made a special contribution to his life."
During her years at Twain, the student population has diversified, Busch says. The children have a wide range of academic and behavioral abilities, and nearly 70 percent receive free- or reduced-cost lunches.
"I go home at night, and I really have to assume that there has to be support from God for a lot of the children that I teach," Busch says. "I know I have the strength that I have because of my faith, and that I have to be strong for those kids."
Still, Busch continues to want all her students to find their own way. She helped launch the peer-to-peer conflict manager program, where kids learn to work out their problems among themselves. In recent years she initiated a community garden project, which offers produce to Twain families and food pantries.
"My teaching has not only teaching," Busch says. "Through my actions, the way I work, I hope my Christian values are communicated to the children."
© 2015 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers