Lincoln educator named ‘Nebraska Teacher of the Year’

Teacher with two years at Lincoln High School honored with "Nebraska Teacher of the Year" award
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 7:24 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - One Lincoln teacher got the surprise and honor of her career Thursday, and it all happened right in front of the students she’s dedicated her life to.

In the groggy first period of Lincoln High School - just as Renee Jones settled her freshman into a lesson in Oral Communications, Nebraska’s Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt led a train of cameras into the room. He held an apple trophy in his hand and presented it to Jones as the 2023 “Nebraska Teacher of the Year.”

Jones started teaching at Lincoln High in 2021, but she’s already made a big impact on students. She says her secret is building trust with students.

“Connection before curriculum,” Jones said. “Of course, we have to go through content. We have to get through benchmarks. Everybody’s here because we need to learn something, and we need to grow as people. But I always want to make my students feel like I care about them.”

Once the initial shock of the announcement subsided, the award wasn’t a surprise to her students.

“I wouldn’t be here talking if it wasn’t for her helping me with my speeches,” DeAdrian Walker, a freshman, said. “She’s respectful. She helps kids when they’re down. She always helps them to make sure they’re in a good mood.”

“She always comes with a positive attitude even when the whole class is dead or like super tired,” Parker Becham, a freshman, said.

Jones took the road less-traveled to teaching. She majored in criminology and criminal justice. Early on, she worked at a residential treatment facility with CEDARS in Lincoln.

Jones started teaching in California in 2014 before she returned to Nebraska and taught English at the Bryan Community Focus Program. Now, she teaches Oral Communication, Holocaust Literature and Creative Writing.

Through it all, she hopes to instill lessons and values in students that last a lifetime.

“I hope that students know that I cared about them and cared enough to push them to do something that makes them uncomfortable, whether that’s through analyzing literature or standing in front of our stage,” Jones said. “But that they can then connect the dots as to why that’s important later in life.”

The State Board of Education will honor Jones at a larger public event soon. She’ll also participate in the National Teacher of the Year Competition.

The winner of that will likely be announced in early 2023.