Two educators who had big influences on members of Lawrence University’s Class of 2021 have been honored by the college.
Catherine Wilda, an English teacher at Kaukauna High School, and Judy Mueller, an English language arts teacher in the Watertown Unified School District, have been announced as the winners of Lawrence’s annual Award for Outstanding Teaching in Wisconsin.
Recipients are nominated by Lawrence seniors and selected on their abilities to communicate effectively, create a sense of excitement in the classroom, motivate their students to pursue academic excellence while showing a genuine concern for them in and outside the classroom. Lawrence has been honoring outstanding Wisconsin secondary teachers each year since the award was established by an anonymous donor in 1985. More than 70 teachers have been recognized.
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Wilda and Mueller were honored at the Baccalaureate Service, part of Lawrence’s Commencement weekend.
Wilda was nominated by Isaac Wippich ’21 of Kaukauna, who double-majored in philosophy and psychology. Mueller was nominated by Isabella Beltz ’21 of Watertown, who majored in biology.
Wilda, a teacher in Kaukauna for more than 20 years, was lauded for her ability to bring literature to life and inspire students as writers and speakers, “helping them find their voice and express it confidently.”
In Wippich’s nomination, he said Wilda is a teacher who continually challenges her students to write quickly and clearly and to engage with difficult literature. He said she marks up students’ work in great detail, pushing them to improve.
“Your commitment to your students also carries beyond the classroom,” reads the citation presented to Wilda. “You support forensics by helping students rehearse a poem or speech with encouragement and constructive criticism, and you advise the Equality Alliance, where students can explore their identities and find a sense of belonging at a time of life when fitting in and being accepted can feel daunting.”
Mueller, meanwhile, was cited for her leadership in bringing project-based learning to the Watertown community. She founded and helped design the Endeavor Charter School, where since 2014 she has been the lead teacher and language arts specialist.
In her nomination, Beltz said Mueller can spark passion in students by guiding them in designing their own academic path and exploring their individual interests.
“You push students to set big goals for themselves and to consider how they need to improve to achieve those goals, both academically and personally,” the citation for Mueller reads. “With your guidance and support, students learn and practice skills that help them succeed beyond high school. The community also benefits from your teaching, as you encourage students to design projects that address local problems, and you inspire them to persevere and accomplish more than they thought they could do. Above all, you instill in students that treating themselves and others with kindness is how to cultivate a life of satisfaction.”
Stewart Purkey, Lawrence’s Bee Connell Mielke Professor of Education and associate professor of education, said Wilda and Mueller are shining examples of what important classroom leadership looks like.
“In these times, all teachers, and especially teachers such as these two, deserve our heartfelt thanks for their service, for being dream-keepers and world makers, for empowering their students, for creating classrooms that are filled with the joy of learning but are also places of care and healing,” he said.