Anchorage elementary teacher selected as 2021 Alaska Teacher of the Year

A woman smiles while bent over looking at her laptop screen in her classrom.
Northwood Elementary fifth-grade teacher Kelly Shrein welcomes students into the virtual classroom on the first day of school in Anchorage August 20, 2020 (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage School District elementary teacher Kelly Shrein has been selected as Alaska’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, the Alaska Department of Education announced Wednesday.

Shrein teaches fifth grade at Northwood Elementary.

She said the news came as a shock. District Superintendent Deena Bishop and other education administrators surprised her during class.

“I started to cry,” Shrein said. “I just tried to take all of it in, in the moment. I know so many dedicated, hard working, inspiring teachers in the district, and to be chosen as the Alaska Teacher of the Year… it’s an incredible honor.”

Early on in the pandemic, Shrein was featured in local news when she began driving by students’ homes to express how much she missed them during distance learning.

She wrote postcards, set up Zoom calls, and made phone calls to stay connected. She also followed her students to the next grade at the start of the current school year so they could maintain some familiarity.

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Shrein, who has been a teacher with the district since 2013, said the pandemic tested her creativity.

“This past school year has thrown so many curveballs at educators and our students and their families. And I learned through this experience, I just needed to think outside of the box more,” Shrein said. “How do I connect more with my students? How do I connect more with their families? How do I keep these relationships going? Because they’re so important.”

Once the district began discussing reopening classrooms to in-person learning, Shrein was an early supporter of bringing students back. She was especially concerned about her students’ social and emotional well-being.

School is starting to feel normal now that she’s teaching in person again, she said.

“My instruction has to be delivered a little differently. But I feel for the most part, we’re back into a routine and it does feel back to normal,” Shrein said. “I wake up every morning really excited to come back to school.”

According to a press release from the education department, Shrein will have a seat on Commissioner Michael Johnson’s Teacher and Educator Advisory Council as part of her new title. She will also be Alaska’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year.

According to the education department, 109 teachers were nominated for Alaska Teacher of the Year.

Kevin Neyhard of the North Slope Borough School District, Tracy Bell of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, Kim Leslie of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, and Michelle Heminger of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District were the other finalists.

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