Another finalist from Lake Harriet: Susan Bell

Lake Harriet Community School 5th-grade teacher Susan Bell, like most teachers, isn't the type to draw attention to herself. So, she went against her own inclination when she decided to submit a portfolio application for this year's state Teacher of the Year Award.

"There's a hesitancy, among teachers, to do anything that says I'm better than everyone else," said Bell, a Linden Hills resident who has taught for 13 years at Lake Harriet, 4912 Vincent Ave. S.

Lake Harriet had two of three nominees elevated to the final 12 candidates, with Bell's colleague Gino Marchetti winning the award.

The process begins when parents, students and/or colleagues nominate a teacher. This year, approximately 150 teachers filed portfolios including recommendations, an educational philosophy, a message that the applicant would spread as a spokesperson for teachers, plus a resume.

Bell was encouraged to apply by her family and Lake Harriet's principal, Marsha Seltz, who also motivated Lake Harriet's parents to nominate teachers. Her ultimate decision was more personal: "I did it for myself, so I could have something that showed my years of teaching."

In her application, Bell included a scrapbook full of mementos and photos from her years of teaching. Included were her yearly student project (following the path of the Iditarod dog sled race) and running with students in the 5K Reindeer Run around Lake Harriet.

"The most fun was getting the recommendations -- especially from the former students. It pumped me up to read those and to see that they reflected my teaching philosophy," said Bell.

She describes teaching at Lake Harriet as her "dream job." Her two children graduated from the school.

Bell appreciates the 5th grade as a reflective and a maturing year for her students, who move on to junior high the following year. "It's the last year of the self-contained classroom, and the kids know that school isn't going to be like this again," said Bell.

Over the years Bell's classroom has changed, from integrating developmentally disabled students to losing Hmong students because of funding cuts in busing.

One of the reasons Bell thinks she was successful in the Teacher of the Year competition is her strength in relating to families.

Catherine Shreves, former School Board member, wrote a recommendation for Bell, who taught her two boys. Shreves noted Bell's success teaching high- and low-achieving kids and was impressed that Bell nurtured an inclusive atmosphere the first year mainstream kids and students with Down syndrome mixed in the classroom.

Bell's classroom is well organized. She gives each student weekly homework packets, returning them peppered with comments and questions.

"I work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Some people can't believe I work that many hours. But to me, that's how much time I need to do the job well," Bell said.