Last fall, 27-year mathematics teacher Deb Bulin, learned she was one of three state finalists for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest recognition across the nation for outstanding teaching in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Up to 108 teachers are recognized each year. Bulin, who has taught at Thayer Central for 24 years, will receive a certificate signed by the President of the United States and a $10,000 award, plus a trip to Washington D.C., for recognition events and professional development that is expected in 2021 because of Covid-19. Bulin’s award was recently announced via Zoom.
“To me, the Presidential Award means you are among the finest teachers in the country; that you go above and beyond for your students; that you are a lifelong learner that is always looking to improve yourself to benefit your students; that you believe all students can learn and do their best, and you find a way to reach each and every child; that you use current strategies and resources so your students can be successful. It is truly an honor to be a part of this group of professionals,” Bulin wrote for her profile at paemst.org.
She applied after being nominated by former teacher, Lenny VerMaas.
“When you get nominated, it’s a huge application process,” Bulin said. Part of the application includes a classroom video. Bulin asked Dakota Cherney to record a lesson on proportions using Goldfish Crackers, which spilled during the recording. One of the rules for the presidential award is submitted videos cannot be edited.
“There I was on video helping to pick up Goldfish Crackers,” she chuckled.
The application wanted information on Bulin’s teaching methods, her resume and she went through a background check.
The current vice president of the Nebraska Association of Math Teachers, and former recipient of the Don Miller Teaching Excellent Award and a Hebron Distinguished Alumni recipient, Bulin was humbled to find out she had earned presidential honors.
“It’s special because the other two finalists are also very good teachers,” she said. “I have so many teacher friends I get ideas from, and I feel like they’re part of this award.”
Bulin shares her ideas with other teachers as well. She has presented at many conferences and planned and hosted Greater Nebraska Math Teachers Circle events. Her bio for the award shows she also planned a conference for pre-service teachers, and served on several committees for writing and revising mathematics standards and assessments.
For a while, she proofread the writing and revisions. Bulin was out of school for several weeks because of breast cancer and a subsequent surgery, and didn’t want to miss anything.
“I went back as soon as the doctor released me,” she said. “It’s hard for me to miss school.”
In the spring when everyone had to miss school because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bulin said she gave her cell phone number to students.
“I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with the kids,’ she said.
When she decided to be a math teacher, she chose the middle and high school grades.
“You get to work with more kids. Depending on the year, you could work with 80 to 90 kids,” she said.
Working with different learning styles, Bulin tries to reach her students.
“They ask questions. They want to know things. If I don’t know the answer, I find it,” she said.
She’ll schedule learning stations, scavenger hunts, a math game modeled after Connect Four, and alternative homework strategies.
“I try to mix it up and not do the same thing every day,” Bulin said. “Some of these strategies will work on any subject.”
The classroom isn’t the only place Bulin sees her students. The other part of getting to know them is outside the classroom.
“That is important,” she said. “Go to the games, watch the concerts, see what they’re strong in, see them excel.”
She takes that level of enthusiasm to her second set of students, the adults in college learning how to be math teachers, and the teachers in their first five years.
But like she said, it can’t be done without others and she has a list of educators, such as former teachers, Jim Fraser, Rich Hoins and Marv Scheuler, who have inspired her.
“I wouldn’t be a math teacher without them,” she said.
She chose close friend Debra Romanek from the Nebraska Department of Education to attend the Zoom call announcing her award. Bulin also mentioned Tom Kiburz, Kurk Wiedel and Betty Meyer, who wrote recommendations for the award.
Bulin’s career includes three years at the Bruning and Geneva schools before coming to Thayer Central. She currently teaches College Algebra and Trigonometry as dual-credit classes, and Algebra I, Geometry, Applied Math and a coding class.