Wells Fargo Teacher of the Year ATM campaign image of students raising their hands in a class
Inside the Stagecoach
October 1, 2015

Teacher of Year is ‘first person to see who I really am’

Blinded in childhood, Indiana Teacher of the Year Kathy Nimmer has helped students find joy in life and learning for 23 years.

Blinded by a rare disease, Kathy Nimmer never forgot the fifth-grade teacher who made the long drive with her family to tour her new home, the Indiana School for the Blind.

“The school was three hours away, and it was a very emotional time for my parents and me. But there she was right beside us,” Kathy says. “Because of teachers like Sandy Baker who loved me and showed me that anything is possible, I wanted to be that kind of teacher to my students.”

A 23-year classroom veteran, Kathy teaches English and creative writing at William Henry Harrison High School in West Lafayette and is the 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year. The school is part of the Tippecanoe School Corporation system in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.

Tony Collins, a U.S. Army Ranger and one of her former students, is among those who recommended Kathy for the honor. He credits her with his academic and personal success because, he says, “She’s the first person to see who I really am” — why he asked the Army to donate his eyes to Kathy if he’s ever killed in combat.

An ATM screen celebrating Kathy’s excellence in the classroom runs Oct. 6–Nov. 4 as part of Wells Fargo’s annual fall ATM tribute honoring top educators. The 2015 campaign honors “Teachers of the Year” (and one principal) on 3,011 ATM machines in 12 states. The effort is part of Wells Fargo’s commitment to communities, which included $71.6 million for 7,885 educational programs and schools nationwide in 2014.

2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year Kathy Nimmer teaches a class at Harrison High School
2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year Kathy Nimmer visits James Cole Elementary with her guide dog
2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year Kathy Nimmer leads her Harrison High School students in a line dance to teach the rhythm of poetry and sentence pacing
2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year Kathy Nimmer speaks to the Indiana House of Representatives
Kathy teaches a class at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Indiana, where she’s taught for 23 years.
At James Cole Elementary, she demonstrates how she and her guide dog, Nacho, work together.
Back at Harrison, Kathy uses a line dance to teach her creative writing students the rhythm of poetry and sentence pacing.
In April, Kathy addressed the Indiana House of Representatives as the state’s Teacher of the Year and National Teacher of the Year finalist.

The 2015 honorees:

  • Alaska: John Bruce
  • Arizona: John-David Bowman
  • Colorado: Kathy Thirkell
  • Delaware: Megan Szabo
  • Georgia: Amanda Miliner
  • Indiana: Kathy Nimmer
  • Montana: Craig Beals
  • Nebraska: Shelby Aaberg
  • Nevada: Ian Salzman
  • North Carolina: Steve Lassiter Jr. (principal); Keana Triplett
  • South Dakota: Allen Hogie
  • Tennessee: Karen Vogelsang

Making connections

One day she noticed Tony was struggling and asked softly, “What’s up?” He says that is an indication of her gift for identifying and nurturing the gifts of her students — and helping them overcome obstacles so they can become better, stronger people.

Teaching with Braille notes, a talking computer, and with her fourth guide dog beside her, Kathy daily models “how to overcome” with creativity and humor.

To teach the rhythm of poetry and the pacing of a well-constructed sentence, she teaches her class how to line dance and then leads them to the tune of the 1980s’ Kool and the Gang hit, “Celebration.”

“Many of my students are encountering someone who is blind for the first time in their lives when they walk into my class, but I hope their first descriptions of me after the year are ‘funny, creative, enthusiastic, and interactive’ before they say ‘blind’ because those things are much more a part of who I am than my blindness,” Kathy says.

“Those of us who have disabilities don’t want to be put on pedestals,” she adds. “But if I can remind them of the strengths they have that have remained dormant, and have more of a fighting spirit to overcome challenges and find joy, then I’m happy to convey that message. We all experience times of darkness but we have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and find joy in the journey.

“My joy comes from seeing my students’ joy in learning.”