American Association of Blind Teachers

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The following has been excerpted from the Lafayette Journal and Courier.

Kathy Nimmer, a longtime teacher at Harrison High School who is blind, was surprised on Tuesday by Indiana's top education officials, relatives and colleagues who gathered in her classroom to celebrate Nimmer's latest — and highest — accolade.

Glenda Ritz, superintendent of public instruction, wiped tears as she broke the news that Nimmer is the Indiana Department of Education's 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year.

Students and faculty cheered and clapped as Nimmer, who teaches English and creative writing, made her way to a microphone with her yellow Labrador, Elias, at her side. She stopped to hug her four-legged companion.

"This is certainly something that I never saw coming, and I never aspired to be here," said Nimmer, who is blind from a degenerative illness. "I only hoped to have the opportunity to inspire people and give students joy."

The Indiana Teacher of the Year is chosen from among the current Indiana District Teachers of the Year who complete and submit an Indiana Teacher of the Year Portfolio to the Indiana Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year Coordinator. A selection committee comprised of past Teachers of the Year reviews and ranks each portfolio following the rubric and portfolio guidelines. The selection committee determines the top ten candidates based on this evaluation system. The selection committee then conducts interviews with the finalists and conducts classroom observations with the top three candidates.

The nomination experience has been surreal, she said. After making the cut to the top 10, Nimmer then was chosen ahead of two other finalists. Nimmer has spent her entire career with Tippecanoe School Corp., teaching at Harrison since 1992.

"TSC has been a great place to work for 23 years," said Nimmer. "They stuck with me through a lot of challenges, and it has been a pure joy to do what I love and what I was meant to do."

Nimmer earned her Bachelors in English Education from Trinity Christian College in 1991 and her Masters of Arts in English from Purdue University in 1992.

She is a 1998 Golden Apple Award winner and a two-time recipient of the Lilly Creative Teacher Fellowship. She was TSC's 2014 teacher of the year and Harrison's top teacher for 2013-14. Last year she won a grant from the Lafayette Optimist Club, and in 1996 she helped carry the Olympic torch for the Summer Games in Atlanta.

Her mother, close friends, colleagues and students were on hand to cheer her latest accomplishment.

"I don't think anyone thought she wasn't going to win — except for her," said Jill Mansilla, a Spanish teacher at Harrison.

Nimmer is quick to point out that awards are really not her thing — definitely not the reason behind her passion for teaching. Her priority, she said, is to fill her classroom with humor and offer interactive opportunities to her charges.

Many fellow educators, including Ritz, said Nimmer has been an inspiration not only to students but colleagues as well — one of the reasons Nimmer was picked for the honor.

Mansilla said Nimmer's students learn how to work with people who have disabilities. "I embody my message every single day in the classroom," Nimmer said.

Instead of handing out worksheets or lecturing at the front of the room, Nimmer tells stories, said Grace Pfeiffer, a sophomore English student. Another sophomore, Justin Robbins, said Nimmer is "extremely interactive and makes everything seem like it's more exciting than it actually is. She's blind, but that's just a step she's overcome, and she's found a way to not let it get in the way of her teaching."

Nimmer said she looks forward to being the face of Indiana education and will relish having more public engagement opportunities while traveling the state. It will be like an expansion of her classroom — a bigger audience to inspire.

"This has been a journey of milestones and joys, but I never imagined they would take me down this path," Nimmer said.

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