Tanner Dahlke’s hands-on, sometimes crazy approach to education at Riley Elementary School has earned him a state award after his first year as a teacher.
Thirty-two first-year educators from Kansas, including special education teacher Dahlke from Riley Elementary in Great Bend, are being recognized for their outstanding teaching skills through the 2018 Kansas Horizon Award program.
The award recipients were announced Jan. 9 by the Kansas State Department of Education.
The first-year educators will be honored at a special ceremony during the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network (KEEN) State Education Conference on Feb. 16 in Topeka.
The Kansas Horizon Award program, which is sponsored by KSDE, allows all school districts in the state an opportunity to nominate one elementary and one secondary teacher for the award.
To be eligible for the award, teachers must have successfully completed their first year of teaching and have performed in such a way as to distinguish themselves as outstanding. Dahlke started his teaching career at Riley during the 2016-2017 school year after a semester of student teaching special education students in a second-grade class at the Auburn-Washburn School District in Topeka.
Dahlke grew up in Holyrood, graduated from Central Plains High School and went on to earn a teaching degree from Washburn University. He was inspired to teach special education because of the struggles he saw his mentally handicapped uncle face.
“I want to help people understand that my kids are people too,” Dahlke said.
“I went to a small school, so I had really good teachers who made learning fun,” he said. One in particular liked to decorate the entire classroom in different themes — a tradition he also enjoys.
This year he decorated his classroom with a “science” theme. On the first day of school, he greeted his students wearing a white lab coat. There are science-related photos on one wall and some green construction paper “slime” oozing down from the ceiling. There’s also a tornado sculpture in one corner, made from the pages of old books.
“I love doing what I do and I have some crazy ideas,” he said, showing some math teaching tools he made by recycling plastic pop bottles. He is a self-proclaimed fan of “interactive, hands-on lessons.”
Superintendent Khris Thexton said Dahlke is deserving of the award.
“Mr. Dahlke is an outstanding young educator for USD 428 and we are very proud to have him as a teacher in our district,” Thexton said. “Mr. Dahlke brings wisdom and a level of professionalism not often seen with someone as new to the profession as Tanner has exhibited and I am excited to see him continue to grow as an outstanding educator for the students of Riley Elementary and USD 428.”
The Horizon award program is a regional competition with four regions corresponding to the state’s U.S. Congressional districts. Four elementary and four secondary classroom teachers may be selected for the award from each region.
Recipients of the 2018 Kansas Horizon Award were notified of their selection by Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson.
“I want to congratulate these outstanding teachers,” Watson said. “Each recipient has demonstrated their dedication to the teaching profession, and I want to thank them for their time and talent. With the help of great teachers like these, we are one step closer to meeting the vision for education in the state, which is Kansas leads the world in the success of each student. Kansas is lucky to have such quality teachers in its classrooms.”
Great Bend is in Region 1. Katie Crowsey, who teaches at Lyons Middle School, was also a regional award recipient.
Jessica Williams, who teaches at Stafford Middle/High School, was an award recipient for Region 4.
As recipients of the Kansas Horizon Award, these educators are invited to KEEN, a network of educators from around the state who have been formally recognized for exemplary performance. Members of KEEN have an opportunity to network with other outstanding educators and participate in several professional development programs throughout the year.