Teacher-of-the-Year hopes her students will “let the language in”


“I crept into a big and bright room feeling completely scared at what would happen next. As I walked in, I could see a lot of tiny tables everywhere and posters translating words from English to Spanish. I could feel the tears about to go down my face but all it took was for her to throw one smile my way and all of a sudden, I felt calm. I felt like everything would be great. She seemed tall, from a fourth grader’s point of view. She wore bright red lipstick, her short, blonde hair hung down to her ears and for some reason she seemed very happy. That’s when I first met Mrs. Zieman.”

Those remembrances of Sibley East teacher Elizabeth “Woody” Zieman are from Sibley East Junior Jennifer Alfaro, when she first came to Gaylord in fourth grade. She is now an Honors English student.

Zieman, who teaches English as a Second Language, was selected by faculty vote as Sibley East’s Teacher of the Year. Zieman received a plaque and is given the opportunity to compete for Minnesota Teacher of the Year. The teacher’s association, Sibley East Education Minnesota, organized and sponsored the event.

Zieman said that she was surprised to be selected for the honor. “It is a high honor coming from peers,” she commented.

A St. Peter native, Zieman graduated from Mankato State College. She earned a degree in elementary education and Kindergarten, reading, and English as a Second Language. She is presently working on her master’s degree between Minnesota State University, Mankato and Hamline University.

She did not begin her teaching career until 1991. Prior to teaching, she was a daycare provider for 12 years. She taught as a long term substitute teacher at Le Center elementary for two years and as an English as a Second Language teacher at Sleepy Eye for four years. During the summer of 1996, she taught in Taiwan.

Zieman began teaching at Sibley East in 2000. She spends four hours in the morning at the Gaylord campus, and three hours in the afternoon at the Arlington campus. Zieman presently serves about 45 Junior High and Senior High students. She also serves students who are newcomers to the English language.

Since she began teaching at Sibley East, there are more students who are being served in the program in Junior and Senior High School because many students are staying longer in school.

“I try to provide a comfortable learning environment,” Zieman explained. “If the students are comfortable and relaxed, they are more apt to let the language in.”

Zieman believes she is teaching in a dynamic area. “Research is being done more and more. We are right on the edge of research for Junior High and Senior High students,” she said.

“I like my job. It’s very fulfilling,” she said.

Although Zieman said she never thought she’d be a teacher, she has always enjoyed being around children, books and learning.

She and her husband Chuck, who works in the Nicollet County Assessor’s Office, have four children: Kelly of Monticello, Annee of Florida, Josie of Hawaii, and Andy of St. Peter. They also have eight grandchildren.