Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: 10 Questions for Jon Pickinpaugh (NE '17)

March 2, 2018

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Beyond his funny stories and “dad jokes,” science teacher Jon Pickinpaugh (NE ’17) wants students to remember that he was always there for them, “never gave up on them, and encouraged them to follow their dreams.” He won Nebraska’s 2017-18 Milken Educator Award at South Sioux City Middle School on January 11, 2018.

1. What went through your mind when you heard your name called at your surprise notification?

Jon Pickinpaugh: I was in complete shock. My body went numb and I could not think. I felt like I was in a dream because it was so surreal.

2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?

Jon: My students went crazy when my name was announced. They all told me they knew it was going to be me and that I was deserving of the Award. They also acted like they were now in a celebrity’s classroom.

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3. How did you end up in education?

Jon: I graduated from Wayne State College in 2005 with a business administration degree. I worked in the world of business for two years and realized I needed to have a job where I could truly affect lives and make a difference. Helping others achieve success fuels my passion for teaching. Every student who comes through my doorway knows I want them to be successful.

4. Who are your role models as an educator?

Jon: My parents and my two sisters. My parents were a huge support in making sure I received an education, and my sisters and I always had a friendly competition when it came to anything educational.

In college there were a few times when I wanted to give up and not finish the program, but I had some amazing teachers at Wayne State College. Dr. Timothy Sharer, Dr. Joni Irlemeier, Dr. Marylin Mudge, and Dr. Dennis Lichty pushed me to be an outstanding educator. It wasn’t about the content—it was their passion for truly caring about me and being there for me.

I admire and look up to so many amazing teachers here at South Sioux City. They make me push myself to be a better educator every day. South Sioux City is the best district to work in because the entire staff works towards the same goal: making sure students better themselves every day.

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5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?

Jon: Eight years later I still remember most of my students’ names. My science classroom was overcrowded, packed with 32 to 40 kids. I learned that year that to keep sane you need to look for the good in every kid and hold onto it, even if it is something small. I also learned you need to build relationships with your students and get to know them as people. This not only builds trust but helps you differentiate lessons to better suit each student.

6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?

Jon: That I was always there for them, genuinely enjoyed being around them, and was excited and positive every day about learning. My students will remember that it is okay to be silly and have fun. They will most likely remember my “dad jokes” and funny stories. I hope they remember that I never gave up on them and encouraged them to follow their dreams.

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7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?

Jon: For all teachers, it’s overcrowded classrooms and not having enough support for all of our students’ needs.

8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?

Jon: I’m not sure yet. I will be donating some back to our school’s foundation. I want to make sure the money is spent helping other people gain experiences in life that they normally wouldn’t get to.

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9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?

Jon: I would tell my student to go for it, and if there is anything I can do along the way I will be happy to help.

10. What’s your definition of success?

Jon: Success looks different to everyone because it depends upon each person’s perception. To me, success is knowing what I am doing every day is helping others better themselves and achieve their goals.


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