Rochester high school teacher named MN Teacher of the Year

Published 8:33 am Thursday, August 12, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS — A high school English language and ethnic studies teacher from Rochester was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year for 2021 on Wednesday.

Natalia Benjamin is the first Latino educator to win the award, made by Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union.

Benjamin has been at the district since 2013, where she started as a substitute teacher and paraprofessional before going on to teach English language at Century High School. She’s the first from her district to win the award.

Benjamin was born and raised in Guatemala, where she grew up speaking, reading and writing French — in addition to her native Spanish — while attending a French school in Guatemala City. She learned English in middle school and high school and later went on to attend Brigham Young

University in Utah, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a master’s degree in language acquisition and teaching.

Benjamin said her exposure to multiple languages helped her understand how children acquire language.

“My personal experiences with languages created a passion and appreciation for multiple languages and cultures. Many of my students are navigating new cultures and places,” she wrote in an essay to the program’s selection committee. “I hope that I can be a small part of their journey in succeeding as they follow their dreams.”