Waukon High School alum Michael Bechtel honored for inspiring students

Honored for inspiring students ...
Michael Bechtel, a 1989 graduate of Waukon High School, was recently honored with a 2015 Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award. He is currently an assistant professor of science at Wartburg College in Waverly. Submitted photo.

Michael Bechtel, assistant professor of science education at Wartburg College in Waverly, was recently honored for his teaching efforts with a 2016 Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award. Bechtel is a 1989 graduate of Waukon High School and the son of Dean and Sherry Bechtel of rural Monona.
Bechtel was one of 14 teachers selected for the honor recognizing teachers who have made an extraordinary impact on the lives of students. He was nominated by Caitlin Miller, a former student of his when he was a science teacher at Central High School in La Crosse, WI.
“Too often people correlate a student’s intelligence with his or her GPA. Dr. Bechtel was the greatest teacher I ever had because he helped me realize that learning and intelligence cannot be quantified within the narrow confines of a GPA,” Miller wrote, recalling how Bechtel, who taught her honors chemistry course, helped her see that trying and learning from mistakes was more important than any final grade.
“Dr. Bechtel saw my struggle, my shaken confidence, and helped me to regain that confidence. More importantly though, he made me fall in love with learning again.”
Though he remembers Miller (and her sister) well, he doesn’t remember the exact conversation she referenced in her nomination letter. “It’s totally something I would say though. It just goes to show that it’s not always the big things you do, but the little things you say,” he said.
Prior to coming to Wartburg, Bechtel, a 1994 graduate of the college, also taught at Twin Cedars High School in Bussey, Saydel High School in Des Moines, and Lewiston-Altura High School in Lewiston, MN. He also taught at Western Technical College in La Crosse, WI. Bechtel earned his doctorate in educational leadership from Edgewood College in Madison, WI in 2012 and joined the faculty at Wartburg College in Waverly in 2013.
In 2015, Wartburg students honored him with the John O. Chellevold Student Award for Excellence in Teaching and Professional Service for his “passion for education and dedication to creating a true learning environment.”
“There are a lot of phenomenal teachers. Everyone has their favorite and there are a lot of teachers you don’t hear about, but there are just as many who do amazing things in the classroom and on a personal level,” he said. “There are students I may not reach, but someone else might. It takes all kinds.”
The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award was created in 2010 in honor of composer Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday. Award recipients receive a $10,000 grant and are showcased, along with the people they inspired, at http://education.kennedy-center.org/education/sondheim/nominees16.cfm.
“We see the profound impact and difference teachers can make through our work in schools across the country,” said Mario Rossero, senior vice president of education at the Kennedy Center. “The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the passionate work teachers are doing to impart the joy of learning on their students and communities, and we are grateful for all they accomplish.”