Meet Jena Nelson

Jena Nelson is a 6th and 7th grade English teacher at Classen SAS Middle School. Her classroom excellence was recognized when she won 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Nelson is also a mom to her 17-year-old son, Rafe, and her 12-year-old daughter, Linnea. Her husband, Karl, is a professor and Director of Choral Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Mrs. Nelson has been an educator for over 16 years and has helped her students earn over $4 Million in scholarships. She has been selected to direct at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and was chosen as a presenter at the International Music Festival in Campina Grande Brazil.

In 2020, she was asked by Congresswoman Kendra Horn to attend the State of the Union Address in Washington D.C. She recently spoke at the National Academy for Science, Engineering, and Medicine, Oklahoma Music Educators Association Conference, and was presented the Award for Teaching Excellence from the OEA.

This year Jena is one of 45 national educators to receive the California Casualty and The NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence. Recently, she was awarded the Lauren Choate Resilience Award from the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy and was inducted into the Kappa Delta Pi Gamma Omega Chapter. She is also featured in the upcoming “Teacher Hero Project.”

Ask Jena

Why do you want to be state superintendent?

In the last three years, I’ve been asked to write dozens of recommendation letters for teachers leaving their jobs. Teacher flight is at crisis levels and only getting worse. We’re experiencing an unprecedented loss of professional educators in Oklahoma, not just to other, better paying states, but also to other professions. I have seen the toll that the pandemic has taken on our students. Our kids deserve 21st century schools, where they can get the life skills they need to thrive in our ever-changing 21st century world.

What was your favorite subject in school?

It’s a tie between drama and choir. These two classes really opened me up to the world of imagination and helped me escape a grim reality at home. I still love performing and singing, although the biggest audiences I sing for these days are my chickens.

How will you help keep teachers from leaving the classroom for other jobs?

Teachers feel overwhelmed with meetings, unfunded mandates and constant new initiatives foisted upon them. It’s time to reduce the clutter and let these professionals focus on what they do best: teaching our kids. I also think it’s time to pay these professionals as professionals.

What are some of your favorite books?

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Wizard of Oz

Do you favor the proposed voucher plan to use public funds for private schools?

Absolutely not, no. I believe wholeheartedly that our public dollars should remain in our public schools. I believe that all Oklahomans are entitled to a quality education and taking more money out of our already chronically underfunded public schools will do tremendous harm. Our kids are not for sale and our schools are not for sale.

How has being a parent changed how you teach?

It’s changed how I teach in a major way! Being a mom has made me a much more empathetic educator.

What’s the biggest misconception about educators?

Despite what some want you to believe, Oklahoma’s educators are not indoctrinators, but professional educators who love our kids as they are. Whether they come in with scars on their arms or scars on their hearts, we have always been the constant for them.