It was just a “pi” in the sky dream for Caitlyn Graf, a math teacher at MHS, until Friday, February 10, when her name was announced as Milbank’s 2023 Teacher of the Year. She received the award during a surprise ceremony at the school.
Caitlyn was nominated by her students, who praised her for “being an amazing person” and “having good morals.” It’s a relationship melded by mutual affection as Caitlyn says, “The best part of my day is definitely just being with my students. I feel like I am constantly laughing at their jokes, witty comments, and one liners. Each class period is unique, and I love that! I obviously love teaching math, but forming relationships with my students and supporting them in their activities is the best.”
Caitlyn (Wojahn), a Milbank native, has been an instructor in the Milbank School District since 2016, when she was hired for a job-sharing position with Wilmot. Prior to that, she received her teaching degree from Valley City State University in Valley City, North Dakota, and she taught two years at both Aberdeen Central and Oakes, North Dakota.
Her husband, Jackson, a math instructor at Milbank Middle School, says, “Being married to Caitlyn and being in a family of educators, I see firsthand and truly understand how much she pours into being a teacher. Caitlyn’s willingness to work one-on-one and give up time in the morning, after school, and during her lunch period shows how much she cares about her students’ education.”
“Over the past few years, she earned her master’s degree (Dakota Wesleyan) while raising our two young children and coaching,” Jackson continues. “It was probably the most stressful time in her career, yet she still wanted to do it to become a better teacher.”
Caitlyn’s dedication and her nurturing style have not gone unnoticed in class. As a result, her children — Mona, 6, and Maggie, 3, — aren’t the only kids who call her mom. Her students have also nicknamed her Mama G.
“It makes my day when I hear it” Caitlyn says, and when I hear about my students’ successes. We really have incredibly talented students in our school.”
She believes her biggest challenge as a math teacher involves the pressure of fitting in the content standards. “It can be difficult due to many uncontrollable factors. I also think it can be a challenge to be engaging. Today, students have so many options for entertainment and obtaining information right at their fingertips. It can be hard to keep them engaged and motivated.”
However, the students who nominated her for the award insist she gets an A+ for inspiration. One nomination stated: “(Mrs. Graf) is a very comforting teacher and makes sure every student isn’t scared to get help, and she often finds a way to keep everyone interested, even the students who tend to slack off.” Another student wrote, “She was the first teacher who told me if I am trying my best and I get a C as a grade, it is perfectly fine. She encouraged me to try harder, and I will forever thank her for that.”
“Caitlyn and I have many conversations about education and her passion for the job is always evident. Jackson, always one of her biggest supporters, says. “Through these talks, I get to see that her students are ‘her kids’ and that is what makes her great.”
At school, Caitlyn also receives support from her fellow teachers and one in particular. “I am lucky to have Mrs. Schuelke right next door to me, which allows us to collaborate on our subject area,” Caitlyn says. “I look up to her so much and love learning from her. She definitely has helped me to become a better teacher.”
Mrs. Schuelke also offered kudos to Caitlyn. “From Day One, when I was hired at the high school, Caitlyn helped me to transition into my new position, and she has always been supportive and willing to help me in any way she could. She challenges her students to the highest level of math and works extremely hard outside of school hours. I’m so excited she was named Milbank Teacher of the Year. The award is well-deserved.”
Along with math, Caitlyn appears to also be teaching her students the importance of choosing a career. One that they will wake up excited to go to day in and day out. She bubbles with enthusiasm when she says, “I know when I walk in the doors in the morning, I am going to be doing what I love and spending my day with people that I love.”
And every day, she spreads a little of that joy. Many of Caitlyn’s students and former students will remember her for telling stories, bringing rolls or treats to each class at some point in the year, and hosting a homeroom Christmas party. Those are a few of the extras she does that show her work doesn’t always have to be…just…work, work, work. There’s also time to enjoy a little whipped cream on your “pi”.