District 518's Patrick Mahoney named semifinalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year
A data error had left off 11 teachers from the original list, including the Worthington High School social studies teacher.
WORTHINGTON — Education Minnesota Worthington Teacher of the Year Patrick Mahoney was disappointed when he learned he wasn’t a semifinalist for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year — only to find out Friday that a data error had left off 11 teachers from the original list.
One of those teachers was Mahoney, who was at his mom’s retirement party when he received a call from a number with a 651 area code. He realized it was likely Education Minnesota calling, but assumed they wanted an RSVP to the banquet at the state gathering. Instead, they told him he was a semifinalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year after all.
“They were apologetic,” Mahoney said. “I was ecstatic.”
Getting the joyful news a bit late meant that he got to share it immediately with his family members, which made it a bit more fun, he said.
An Education Minnesota panel will review the 44 semifinalists’ portfolios and video submissions this month, and will select about a dozen finalists. The Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be announced May 7.
At first glance, Mahoney might not seem like a good candidate to become a teacher at all, much less a teacher of the year — or at least, that’s what he thought as a student, as he struggled with academics due to ADHD. A closer look, however, reveals a long family history of educators, and Mahoney’s own strong commitment to community and teaching.
He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota Morris, and intended to get a job in public relations, but the Great Recession struck and Mahoney ended up in a series of other jobs, including insurance and selling suits.
Following his parents to Worthington, he decided he truly wanted to teach, and took classes from the University of Sioux Falls to earn a master’s degree. He found it exciting to finally be able to do schoolwork, since it had been so difficult for him as a child.
“As I grew up, I thought ‘Maybe I can be the teacher I didn’t have,’” he said.
He spent a year teaching abroad in Bahrain, a “wonderful experience” he still cherishes, as it gave Mahoney the opportunity to to live, grow and teach together with other new teachers. It also gave him the chance to take leadership roles even though it was only his first job, as he was a little older than many of his fellow students.
“It was an incredibly fun experience,” he said, crediting his time abroad for making him a better person and a better teacher.
He opted to teach social studies due to his love of history, a subject in which he’d always taken an interest.
“We don’t memorize dates and people. It’s multiple perspectives — what does it mean to me?” Mahoney said, pointing out that history changes constantly as new information and new perspectives are introduced and included. “That is the exciting part.”
Education itself also requires new perspectives, and that’s part of why he encourages his own students to become teachers themselves. As a student, Mahoney had assumed that all teachers had an easy time with academics when they were in school, but telling his own story helps current students realize that isn’t necessarily the case.
Plus, different teachers bring different strengths and experiences to their classrooms.
“I know that relationships, relationship-building is my gift,” he said.
That ability to break down barriers and build positive relationships with students is important for teachers, but since no single teacher can reach every single student, a variety of teachers are needed, too.
“You don’t have to have the same skillset that I have,” he said. “This is by far the most rewarding experience I’ve had, besides being a father.”
Mahoney and his wife Jenalee’s children are Natzali Morales, Giani Morales, Stella Mahoney and Genevieve, who passed away in 2019 at just 8 months old. Mahoney said the school supported the family through those months, and that since then, he’s learned to bring Genevieve with him as part of his life.
Mahoney serves as a teacher liaison for the Future Teachers Club at WHS, runs the school’s Anime Club, founded the school’s esports team and is also involved in the Worthington Community Football Club.
And the kid who once said “Yeah right!” to teaching is now an educator who looks forward to going to school every week.
“They’re good kids. It makes coming to work not feel like work,” Mahoney said. “Who gets to feel this way on a Monday morning when their work week starts? It’s a blast!”