Nicole Nelson

2021 Amazing Educators - Herald-Pioneer - Canby

School: Carus Elementary School
Why she is amazing: Nelson reaches through the computer screen to bring sunshine to her students, their families and her peers.

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When Nicole Nelson arrives at her kindergarten classroom in the mornings this year, something notable is missing — her students.
But no one watching Nelson would know it.

“She amazes me with her tireless energy, endless creativity and bottomless love for her students,” said Kristin Watts, a behavior assistant at Carus Elementary School where Nelson teaches. “I have never seen her tired or irritated or board with her ‘munchkins.’ She is constantly and consistently joyful in her work. When walking by her classroom when she is teaching online, you would think that there were students in-person with her, with all of the excitement you hear. She is an inspiration.”

Nelson said teaching is what she was meant to do. She grew up watching her mother, Patti Monte, in the exact same position she’s in now — teaching kindergarten at Carus Elementary School. And ever since she can remember, Nelson has wanted to follow in her mom’s footsteps.

Nelson graduated from Linfield College and immediately got a job teaching first grade at Carus during her mother’s last full-time year at the school. That was prior to Nelson taking her married name, so briefly, the school enjoyed having a Mrs. Monte and a Miss Monte.

“We had one family that had a kindergartner and a first-grader, and so that mom always joked that they had the full Monte,” Nelson said.
Then Nelson married her husband, John Nelson, and they now have two boys together.

After that first year, Nelson jumped around, teaching at whatever grade level she was needed most. She even spent some time at another Canby school, Knight Elementary. Now, in her 13th year, she has settled into teaching kindergarten at Carus, and she said it’s a good fit.

Each day in the online setting, she brings joy, 110% energy and a new pair of Mickey Mouse ears to entertain her kindergartners.

“I feel like I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to be surrounded by so many colleagues and families and students that just make me want to be a better person, make me want to be a better teacher and just make me want to show up and be the best version of me so that I can help these kids be the best version of themselves,” Nelson said. “… I just think teaching is one of the most amazing professions because I feel like I have an impact on so many little humans. I feel like I’m so fortunate to have that job and I don’t ever want to take it for granted.”

Nelson not only gives her full effort while teaching, but she also takes it outside of the classroom — delivering crafts, treats and certificates of achievement to her students at their homes. She also dresses up as the school mascot for drive-thru events and heads up the school’s “Sunshine Committee,” a group dedicated to bringing joy to staff members through potlucks, gifts of appreciation and more.

“When she is not being an amazing, engaging and Disney-loving teacher, she is making sure that each and every one of us here at Carus feels loved and appreciated,” said fourth-grade teacher Lorin Hilger. “She is the head of our Sunshine Committee, and let’s just say that girl loves spreading sunshine. Each and every person who walks through her classroom door is so lucky to know her.”

It is for all these reasons and more that the school’s intervention specialist, Kara Dewar, described Nelson as “a backbone of our school.”

“Between funny costumes, games and over-the-top silliness, she finds time to connect with each kid,” Dewar said. “She learns what makes them tick, and she shows up for them when and where they need it. She is animated, an outside-of-the-box thinker and a leader. She inspires her students, her coworkers and her classroom families to be the best that they can be and to care for each other.”

Nelson said she is excited to be recognized as an Amazing Educator for the Canby area. But she pointed out that there are many others in the district, including teachers, support staff and administrators, who have stepped up for kids in this unique time and are deserving as well.