114 teachers were announced last week as candidates for the 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, and a Rosemount and Farmington teacher were among them.

Farmington High School English teacher John Bertucci and Rosemount High School ESL and AVID teacher Heather Walseth were both nominated by their peers for the award, which celebrates excellence in teaching in Minnesota.

Bertucci has taught in the district for the past decade, but his teaching career spans 42 years. Patty Nygren, a fellow English teacher at FHS, said she nominated Bertucci for the award because of his remarkable ability to engage students and his devotion to helping them grow. She said Bertucci demonstrates the idea that anything is possible by winning arm-wrestling contests with his students and performing one-armed push-ups for them.

“John’s students love his energy and enthusiasm,” Nygren wrote in her nomination. “They know he cares. John’s wisdom and warm heart, coupled with his drive to see every student succeed, creates a personal and productive learning environment where all students are challenged to rise to their full potential.”

Bertucci, who was named Farmington Teacher of the Year in 2015, said it was an honor to receive the nomination.

“I’ve been in education for a long time and I’ve done a lot of things, but having your peers vote you, that is really exciting,” he said.

Bertucci said it is the students who keep him going. He learns something from them every day. He once took a sabbatical from his job as principal to work on his doctorate and was required to do some teaching again. He liked it so much, he decided to return to teaching once he finished the program.

“To be able to go back to what I enjoy the most, that’s probably a highlight of my career,” Bertucci said. “I’m in it for the kids. The students are what make it what it is. To me, that’s almost everything.”

Walseth has taught in District 196 for the past nine years and taught band for three years prior to that. Assistant principal Kim Budde, who nominated Walseth for the award, said Walseth’s heart is as big as her smile.

“I can’t think of one student that doesn’t love Miss, as they call her,” Budde said. “They know that she is always there for them.”

Budde said Walseth not only teaches students the English language and helps families navigate the school, community and culture, but she also serves as an amazing advocate for the wider student body.

“She is always willing to listen to students and to challenge them to become the best that they can be,” Budde said. “She is a professional, organized and kind. She is what kind of teacher and person that I hope to be.”

Walseth said she almost broke into tears when she received her nomination letter, which arrived after an especially long and busy day.

“I love that I get to help an amazing group of students with extremely diverse backgrounds. They are all so unique and have incredible stories, and I’m so happy that I get to help them everyday try to achieve success or have a good future,” she said.

A 25-member panel of community leaders will narrow down the field to semifinalists and finalists over the next two months, and the 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be announced at a banquet in Bloomington on May 15.