Local educator lauded as ‘Outstanding Teacher’ by UMW

| April 21, 2020 8:38 AM

Editor’s Note: The following article about Mellonie Roesler-Begalke’s teaching award was first reported and written more than a month ago as an advance for the award she was scheduled to receive April 25. And then COVID-19 happened. She’ll receive the award by mail.

The two Aspens, one 4 years old and one 5, each sought Miss Mel’s warm and undivided attention amidst the bustle of their classroom.

Miss Mel possessed but one lap for perching, one heart for communicating affection and one set of eyes for demonstrating full attentiveness.

Somehow, though, both Aspen Sweet, 4, and Aspen Larson, 5, quickly got what they needed. They rejoined their classmates’ engagement in activities designed to be both fun and instructive.

Mellonie Roesler-Begalke, 48, said one key challenge teaching “transitional kindergarten” is meeting the varied needs of each of her 13 students at W. F. Morrison Elementary School in Troy.

“Each one is so different and they need different things,” she said. “If I had a nickel for every time someone said, ‘Miss Mel,’ I’d be rich.”

Observers of Roesler-Begalke’s teaching say she has a wealth of skills and a depth of caring that impart riches to the children in her class.

“Transitional kindergarten” typically refers to a form of pre-kindergarten meant for children who have either missed the cutoff date for kindergarten or won’t turn 5 until the end of an academic year.

One observer of Roesler-Begalke’s teaching has been Jacob Francom, who is both principal of W. F. Morrison Elementary and superintendent of Troy Public Schools.

Francom described Roesler-Begalke’s daily domain as the best transitional kindergarten classroom in the state.

“She’s always energized,” Francom said. “She’s always positive. She’s very creative. She’s building relationships, not just with the students but with the parents too.”

Andrea Towery’s 5-year-old daughter, Vera, is one of Roesler-Begalke’s students.

Towery is a fan. She said she marvels at the teacher’s energy and enthusiasm, day after day, and said that spirit has animated her daughter.

“Vera is just pumped to be there,” she said. “She is eager to please her [Roesler-Begalke]. She has great respect for her.”

Towery said Roesler-Begalke has built the curriculum around hands-on experiences that mix discovery and play and help students meet developmental milestones.

Roesler-Begalke’s teaching has received recognition also by the University of Montana Western, where she has been enrolled in a distance learning degree program.

On April 25, she was to receive an Outstanding Teacher award during a celebration in Dillon honoring alumni and students of University of Montana Western. Roesler-Begalke, whose teaching career began more than 20 years ago, has been enrolled in coursework at UM Western toward receiving a bachelor of science degree in pre-kindergarten through third grade and achieving Montana teacher certification.

She graduates in May after what she said has felt like “three long years” of study, an endeavor she said has been patiently supported by her husband, Mark, and their children, Moxley, 18, and Adeline, who will soon be 16.

Because of COVID-19, the ceremony in Dillon has been cancelled and the award will arrive by mail.

Roesler-Begalke grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She is one of six children born to Richard and Jackie Roesler. Richard worked as the maintenance manager for Webster Lumber Company and Jackie was a stay-at-home mother.

In 1998, Roesler-Begalke launched her teaching career with preschoolers at Kootenai Valley Head Start.

In 2015, she began working at W. F. Morrison Elementary, starting as a paraprofessional. After two years, she taught preschool. She began teaching transitional kindergarten in 2019.

Roesler-Begalke said she does whatever she can to hold their interest.

“I try to make the day enjoyable and exciting for them,” she said “I want everyone to be as engaged as much as possible.”

Roesler-Begalke will be the first teacher many children encounter on their educational journey. She said she understands and accepts this potentially daunting responsibility. Encouraging students to embrace a host of activities is fundamental, she said.

“When you give them all these opportunities, they want to come back,” Roesler-Begalke said.

She emphasizes social and emotional development that can prepare students for a more demanding kindergarten curriculum. Among other things, Roesler-Begalke works to model and create conditions that foster empathy among class members.

She acknowledges that trying to attend to the emotional and educational needs of 13 young children day in and day out if often challenging.

“It can be exhausting,” said Roesler-Begalke.

This can be especially true when she goes home in the evening fretting there was something that happened in class that didn’t feel right to her.

She said Mark Roesler-Begalke, a paraprofessional for Libby Public Schools, provides a balancing perspective.

“My husband is a great support,” she said.

Roesler-Begalke said she believes the ability to self-reflect about what works in the classroom and what does not is one key attribute of a good teacher. Organization is vital too, she said.

“And you have to treat every student the same,” she said.

Her students regularly seek Roesler-Begalke’s attention and affirmation. In turn, when she asks for their attention, she gets it.

During a recent class, she told students it was time to straighten up the classroom in advance of recess. The students readily complied and then sat quietly with Roesler-Begalke in a semi-circle before donning coats for time outside.

She said she gains satisfaction watching students discovering joy in learning.

“And they say funny things that make me laugh and keep me young,” she said.

Roesler-Begalke said she appreciates the support she receives from Francom, from Cathrine McGinnis, assistant principal, from other colleagues at W. F. Morrison Elementary, which has about 200 students, and from parents.

Francom said Roesler-Begalke inspires students “to want to learn and grow and develop.”