Everywhere Pine teacher Dean Pederson goes — students run up to greet him.
Like in Denmark.
“He has run into students in Anchorage, Springfield and the Denmark airports, just to name a few,” said his wife Laura.
Maybe that’s why the Arizona Rural Schools Association named the Pine-Strawberry School District the 2019 teacher of the year.
Laura works in the Payson Unified School District and so did Dean. Dean has been teaching for 51 years, including in Payson and Pine. He is currently a PE teacher in Pine.
But Dean didn’t just teach art and physical education. He spent decades counseling students, helping them cope with emotional disabilities, behavior, depression, suicide, drugs/alcohol/tobacco and bereavement. He taught them about life and courage and coping — alongside the lesson plan objectives.
“The students that I have spoken with always said Dean genuinely cared about them and wanted them to be successful. They could always talk to him and trust him,” said Laura.
Dean didn’t just help in school. He has taken Special Olympic students “under his wing,” said Laura. “He has bought countless pairs of shoes for athletes that couldn’t otherwise afford a decent pair of shoes.”
His support even extended to hospital waiting rooms.
“There was a student that had a suicide attempt and we sat in the hospital all night because the student asked for him,” said Laura. “I believe my husband’s heart for children shines through in everything he says and does,” said Laura. “Dean has a big personality, smile and love for life that I believe inspires others to do their best whether they are a student or a fellow educator.”
Gila County School Superintendent Roy Sandoval was one of those educators Dean helped.
“I was a first-year teacher in 1985. Dean Pederson was a veteran teacher. Dean, along with Dennis Pirch, Tommy Meck (Payson High School principal) and some others really took me under their wing and mentored me before ‘mentoring’ was a trendy word,” he said, “I owe a great deal to them.”
In fact, Pirch nominated Dean for this honor, said Laura.
Sandoval commented, “I would simply say that Dean represents the very finest example of what educators should be. He is truly a shining star whose light has shown on three generations of students. He sets a standard to which every young educator (and older) should aspire. I am incredibly fortunate to have worked alongside him and experienced him as an example.”
“I am so proud of my husband,” said Laura, “I’ve always known what an extraordinary person he is, but to see others acknowledge it is heartwarming.”
Laura said her husband can now take his special brand of teaching around the state as he speaks to teachers and administrators as the Rural Teacher of the Year.
“We have not seen a schedule of engagements at this point, but I know he’s excited about it,” said Laura.
“Dean is a very good public speaker who knows how to reach an audience on a personal level.”
But his travel plans had better build in extra time at the airport.
Someone he taught 30 years ago is going to want to talk.
And one thing’s sure about Dean: He’d rather miss a plane than put off a student.