A little about me...

This fall I am taking a course through UNL called Place Conscious Teaching. One of the course requirements is to create and maintain a blog, so to save me a step or two I figured I would just use the blog I already have established!

A little about me and where I come from:

My name is Danielle Helzer and I am a 23 year-old English teacher, wife of three years, daughter, sister, aunt, and volunteer. My husband and I live in Ogallala, Nebraska with our two year old Cairn Terrier, Sampson.

New jobs brought us from Kearney out to the Cowboy Capitol a year ago. Previously we had lived in Kearney, Nebraska where I was attending UNK and substitute teaching at Gibbon Public Schools and Elm Creek Public School and my husband was in his second year teaching K-12 Vocal Music at Elm Creek Public School. Around our second year of marriage, I had joked around with my husband about moving out to western Nebraska. Being very family oriented, he had always said that he wouldn't move further west than Kearney...but here I sit in my newly finished basement in Ogallala, Nebraska!

To make a long story short, friends of ours were moving to Ogallala and had mentioned to us that the Vocal Music position at OHS was open. My husband, wanting to transition to a larger school, applied for the job in March 2008. As soon as he sent out his application I began looking for possible jobs. However, I had not yet complete my student teaching experience. In fact, I had just recently been assigned to student teach in Minden, NE. Nonetheless, the day after Nate sent off his application I attended the educator's employment fair at UNK and dropped off my resume to every booth whose representing school was in a 45 mile radius of Ogallala. Luckily, the principal from Perkins County High School in Grant, NE just happened to be looking to fill an English opening. Later that week my husband and I were making the two hour trek to interview for jobs. A day later we were offered positions. I remember getting "the phone call"...it was during one of my classes and when the principal offered me the job I danced up and down the halls of Thomas Hall (the English dept. at UNK).

Last year proved to be a rough year for me. Because I had not yet student taught, my first semester at PCHS was spent "student teaching"...basically I taught almost all of the classes I was assigned to while my cooperating teacher (a full-time sub and retired History teacher) got paid to supervise me. I had a massive load: Creative Writing, English 11, Practical English 9-12, Journalism, Yearbook and the asst. speech coach. In December I finished my student teaching experience, graduated, and began collecting a pay check! Though I enjoyed my time at PCHS, the class load quickly wore me out and I turned in my letter of resignation in March. I was blessed enough to be offered a job at Ogallala High School teaching English 9, Reading, and one section of English 12. Needless to say, I quickly accepted!

This year has been much better. I am enjoying teaching in the same town I live in and love teaching at the same school as my husband. I've gone from a small, rural, upper-middle class farming community to a larger district with a high percentage of free and reduced lunch and much more diversity. I'm still getting used to all of these changes, but they are welcomed and keep my job interesting.

Though I often long for big-city-life, over the past year I have grown to love this place. I love the movie theater that also houses a coffee shop. I love hearing the sounds of roosters' crows filtering through our bedroom window in the early morning hours. I love running the town's trail that winds through hills and is littered with cactus and yucca plants. I love seeing students at the grocery store. I look forward to Summer Indian Rendezvous every September where downtown is cluttered with food vendors, live performers, pep rallies, and other festivities. And I love visiting Arthur Bay to watch sunsets at Lake Mac. Many of my friends are occupying urban areas, but I am happy right here in Ogallala.

Tomorrow I will post my I Am From poem as well as a few of my students' I Am From poems that they have been crafting over the past few days!


Katrina Gotschall said...

Hi Danielle!
Awww, your writing refreshes me! I just love how your voice comes through in every line. Your account of your first year of teaching resonates with me and I can hear the frustration in your voice. Likewise, I can hear the sense of rejuvenation coming through in the transition as you write about your new place. Good-luck this year! I really look forward to reading and talking with you about your experiences and ideas in your new place!

Katrina Gotschall said...

PS: Woot, woot on the cow poem! I still LOVE it!

Jenny said...

Thanks for sharing your blog with us! Contrary to what you believe, I loved reading the story of how you came to be in Ogallala. I am always amazed at the sheer load of work that is placed on rural teachers. While urban teaching offers many challenges, that sounds so exhausting!
I am interested to hear what it's like to teach with your husband. It's been a fun journey for my husband and I. I have been teaching at Burke for 7 years and he just joined the staff, so he has to establish himself at a place where I am well-known. Luckily my former students are welcoming him with open arms!
Good luck in your new position!

Danielle said...

Thanks so much for the kind words. I do feel refreshed this year...granted, there are still issues, but I feel like I can handle these a bit better!

It's funny that you mention teaching with your husband because I was going to respond to that on your blog :) So be looking for my response!

Cathie English said...

Hi Danielle!

I can so relate to your first year of teaching! I taught in Shenandoah, Iowa which had about 6,00 residents and I had over 100 students. I did the fall play, two separate speech seasons, the yearbook, helped with the musical, and had a speech class added the second semester. It was grinding. I almost left teaching after that. I am astounded by what small schools expect, but it is what it is because of economic reasons. I think the administrators know it is not a good thing, but their hands are tied! It's sad! It was a pleasure reading your posts! I have only passed through your town on the way to Scottsbluff, but I love Western Nebraska. You really gave us a feel for your place. Thank you!

Tyler said...


You didn't say much about the heavy load you taught as a student teacher, but having been there myself in my first job, I know what a task it is! I'm sure that this was a formative place for you in how you look at schools. I know some teachers that would argue about or stress over teaching three preps, but teaching 5, 6, or 7 different classes at once sure puts that in perspective.

You have a great writer's voice, and I look forward to reading more.

Jennifer Troester said...

Dear Danielle,
When I read this line of your poem, “…my life before me like an open highway, my right hand on the steering wheel and my left out the window grasping for whatever comes my way,” I read it again, and again. It really captures some of the things you described about your life: your childhood, student teaching experience, and risk to move out west. You sound like a passionate & dedicated teacher that I look forward getting to know in this space.
Jennifer Troester

Deb Derrick said...

Hi Danielle - it's great that you're sharing your students' writing with us as well as your own! I loved your descriptions of your houses, especially the house in Crete with the clawfoot bathtub and the attic room overflowing with Babysitters Club books. Those were my daughter's favorite books growing up (her name is Kristi, just like one of the characters). I'm a bit envious of your living in Ogalalla. I hope you do some wonderful writing there. Have you read John Janovy's Keith County Journal yet?

Jeff Lacey said...

As a native Nebraskan, I have always been fascinated by Lake McConoughy, both its cultural/political history and its ecological history. I would love to hear about the extent to which Ogallala is defined by Mac (as you call it), and about how the geography of the area plays into the culture of the area.

There is a drive from Ogallala towards Scottsbluff that is just magical. What is the name of that highway?

I look forward to working with you!