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Newberg High School students nominate the popular teacher for the 2020 award

GARY ALLEN - Peter Siderius has been nominated by students at Newberg High School to be the 2020 Teacher of the Year.

Newberg High science teacher Peter Siderius didn't always think this would be his career. After graduating from Montana State University, where he earned a degree in biology and played on a national champion football team, he became a scientific researcher doing work with the federal government.

But Siderius had a teaching certificate and he was growing tired of his old job. He finally decided to become a teacher in rural Montana, which led to him accepting a job at Newberg High School in 1992.

He's been a fixture in the lives of students in the area ever since; 27 years later, some of those students have nominated him for the 2020 Oregon Teacher of the Year award.

"In education, there are so many teachers doing such a great job," Siderius said. "To be singled out feels kind of embarrassing, to be honest with you. It felt good to be nominated, but we all deserve recognition for the work we do."

Siderius was taken by surprise when he arrived at NHS on Feb. 6 and people started congratulating him. He had no idea what it was for. Siderius soon found out that senior Quentin Comus and other students he mentors on the Chehalem Valley Watershed Project were the ones who nominated him.

Comus and his classmates have put together a remarkable series of projects under Siderius's guidance, receiving thousands of dollars in grants on a regular basis and using the funding to better the community. It has been an ambitious undertaking for a small group of high school kids, but Siderius said he allows them to have near autonomy with their work.

At this point, he plays the role of an advisor, pointing the students in the right direction based on his expertise, and using a hands-off teaching approach.

"I've been doing this stuff for a long time and I've always been the driver," Siderius said. "As I've gotten further along in my career, I've found it's better to let students be the drivers – make their own discoveries and mistakes and learn from it."

Siderius's favorite memories from teaching usually come from past field trips. One trip in particular, to the Oregon coast, stands out in his mind.

He and his students were hiking in the pouring rain – a trip that was supposed to take 90 minutes. It ended up beimg a four-hour slog through the mud, after which the people at their campsite had to hose them off.

Working through adversity in the field (or, in this case, on the hiking trail) is when students learn the most about themselves and the subject, Siderius said. It also makes for great memories, of which he said there are countless in the near three decades he's been teaching in Newberg.

To be nominated for teacher of the year is an honor, Siderius admitted, but the rewards that he said would stay with him are watching his students work with each other to achieve a common goal.

"As I've gotten older and more experienced, it becomes more of a team effort instead of teacher-pupil," Siderius said. "I tell them that I'm a benevolent dictator and everything I'm doing is for their good, but I have to get them to cooperate."

Candidates for Oregon Teacher of the Year will be honored in 19 Education Service Districts throughout the state. If Siderius is selected to represent the Willamette Education Service District, he will have a chance to win the statewide competition.

The winner of the statewide competition — which will be announced later this year — receives a $5,000 award along with $5,000 for their school, and an opportunity to compete in the national competition.

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