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10% Bolder | Teacher Talk

I have both the honor and privilege of being South Dakota’s 2015 Milken Educator, which has placed me into a national network of inspiring teachers who have this motto: Be 10% bolder. This school year I made some bold choices that have surely pushed me over the 10% mark, and although being bolder is hard work, it has also been fulfilling work.

I graduated from the University of Sioux Falls in 2000. In 2023, I made the bold decision to return as an adjunct instructor. I still love teaching at my high school and have no plans to leave, but one night class a week teaching future teachers intrigued me. The class? Technology in Education. When I took Tech in Ed in the ‘90s, I NEEDED to learn how to use technology and what technology was beneficial to learning, communicating, and assessing in a classroom. What might surprise many is that my current college students have a lot to learn about technology too. As we bring more technology into our lives, we also have more technology than ever to choose from. There’s always more to learn! In addition, while I was focusing on how to get technology into my classroom as a secondary education major, today’s education majors must focus on when technology is helpful and when to leave it out. Teaching Tech in Ed was a bold move when I accepted the position, and it’s also been an incredible opportunity for me to grow professionally and help future teachers do the same.

The other bold choice I made this school year is this. Teacher Talk. The idea took root in a coffee shop. As usual, Jackie and I had skipped all pleasantries and went right to the heart of our lives. I’d been encountering an overwhelming amount of complaining about the teaching profession on several social media platforms and needed time with Jackie to thoughtfully talk about our visions and passion for teaching and also how to address concerning issues in our profession. We both lamented that all sorts of media had an imbalance in how they portrayed teaching. So, we decided to contribute to change, and Teacher Talk was born. Was I excited to bring balance to the conversation? Yes. Was I incredibly nervous to talk to everyone listening to public radio? Oh, yes. Did it take away a chunk of my free time? For sure. Has being 10% bolder been worth it? Without a doubt. Not only has Teacher Talk been fun, but I’ve grown professionally and personally while also creating a fun bond with Jackie and Lori.

Even though this year’s experiences have been worth the risk, that’s not always the case. In the middle of my career, I was 10% bolder when I applied for and received the job of leading my high school’s AP program. For several years I worked on supporting AP teachers and students while also doing all I could to make our program as effective and efficient as possible. In 2016, I started to hate the job and needed out. Giving back the position I dearly wanted and my principal entrusted to me came with lots of questions from him and my colleagues. I was 10% bolder but ended up hating what I thought I wanted.

At the start of this school year I was scared to be 10% bolder, and my loved ones were a bit concerned too. Would my new endeavors find success? Would I overwork myself? Now that I’ve been at it for six months, I’m glad I took the risk. I’m also curious about how others, including Jackie and Lori, have been 10% bolder in their lives. Listen to our segment to hear what they say!

Gina Benz has taught for over 23 years in South Dakota. She currently teaches Teacher Pathway (a class she helped develop), English 3, English 3 for immigrant and refugee students, and AP English Language at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, as well as Technology in Education at the University of Sioux Falls.

In 2015 Gina was one of 37 educators in the nation to receive the Milken Educator Award. Since then she has written and spoken on a state and national level about teacher recruitment and grading practices. Before that she received the Presidential Scholar Program Teacher Recognition Award and Roosevelt High School’s Excellence in Instruction Award in 2012 and the Coca-Cola Educator of Distinction Award in 2007.