OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – Kaelee Heideman, a school counselor at Carl Traeger Elementary School in Oshkosh showed up to school ready to work another normal Wednesday.

What was waiting for her would eventually lead to tears of joy.

State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly, alongside students and staff, surprised Heideman. “I had no idea,” she explained when describing the surprise to Local 5. “I was told I was going to be the photographer for this event so that is what I was prepared to do.”

Kaelee Heideman wipes away tears of joy as she was named a 2023 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year
Kaelee Heideman wipes away tears of joy as she was named a 2023 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year

Heideman learned she was going to be recognized as one of the 2023 Wisconsin Teachers of the Year. Each year, five teachers or counselors from elementary, middle, and high schools in the state of Wisconsin are recipients of this award.

“I am just really overwhelmed with that right now. I don’t even have the words to talk about it otherwise I’ll start getting emotional,” said Heideman.

Her hard work and dedication to Carl Traeger Elementary School didn’t go unnoticed, as students, parents, and staff wrote letters of recommendation for Heideman to become a recipient.

“I would not be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t love what I did. I’m so grateful to come and work with kids that are going to make me a better professional,” said Heideman.

She played a key role in the success of students during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing support to not only the students but to the teachers and community members.

Heideman wrote each student at the school a personalized letter, where she checked in on how things were going at home while the students were learning remotely.

“It doesn’t even feel above and beyond to me. It just [felt] like something I needed to do because when we went home on that Friday, March 13, 2020, I just missed my [students]. I love them. They’re the reason that I come to school every single day because they inspire me,” added Heideman.

She is the first of five in Wisconsin to receive the surprise. The other four will be announced later throughout the year.