SUTHERLIN — Even with an impressive resume that includes easily two decades of teaching under her belt and known for her dedication to her students at Sutherlin Middle School, the 2020 Douglas’ Regional Teacher of the Year is still quick to deflect attention from herself.

“It’s super humbling. It’s a nice honor,” said Sutherlin Middle School teacher Janel Sorenson. “I’ve said this almost every single time but nobody does their job in a vacuum. I work in a really great school with really great people. I’ve got good administration, our school board is super supportive, I like to come to work and we like to do what we do.

“I can shine and get this award, but it really is a reflection of all of the people that I work with, all the way down to the custodians who love the kids as much as I love the kids. It’s a group effort.”

Although Sorenson sees the award as a result of team effort, others recognize the hard work Sorenson herself has contributed.

“She is often concerned about the social emotional well-being of the Sutherlin Middle School students and fellow staff members,” Sutherlin Middle School Principal Jon Martz said in a press release. “Janel wears many hats within our school district and it is always amazing how she is able to find a balance between teaching science/robotics full time, working on many different school-wide committees, and volunteering within the community. Janel is a standout teacher because of her sheer dedication to students!”

Regional teachers of the year are nominated by students, colleagues, administrators, friends and family members. Douglas Education Service District then organized a selection panel, which included educators from around the Douglas County, to choose the winner from the pool of nominees. It was this panel that chose Sorenson for the award.

Sorenson has been teaching for 18 years, though she says it would be closer to 27 if she had not taken time off to raise her children. She grew up in Cave Junction before attending Western Oregon University. She taught in the Portland area before Sorenson and her husband decided to move to Sutherlin.

“We wanted to raise our kids in a small town. My daughter was a year old and we could live down here cheaper and we loved the river, so we moved to Sutherlin. We’ve been in Sutherlin for 20 years,” Sorenson said.

Sorenson currently teaches science, robotics and coding at Sutherlin Middle School, though she has taught every elementary and middle school level except first grade. When she isn’t teaching or raising her kids, she is active in her community.

“I say yes way too often. I sit as the teacher representative on the middle school PTO and I’m the team leader for my team. Just, ya know, anywhere there is something going on I tend to help get it done. I also am really involved in the community, I’m on a couple of nonprofit and advisory boards,” Sorenson said. “When you live some place for 20 years and its a small town, you kinda have a cog in every wheel and that certainly describes my husband and I.”

Sorenson says her biggest challenge is seeing kids that need help that she cannot assist.

“For me personally, the part that I struggle with the most is not having the resources to help the kids that need it the most. The kids that are coming with mental illness — and you can spot it really easily — or such family trauma that they are not able to learn. And we know that they need help and we know that there is stuff that should be being done for those kids,” Sorenson said. “I wasn’t trained in any of those specialized skills, so I can teach you science and I can see that you are hurting but if I don’t have the resources to refer you to a mental health specialist or to get your family help, that is probably the hardest part.”

Along with recognition for her work, Sorenson will receive a $500 cash prize and is in the running for Oregon’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

“I really believe in kids and that they need a lot of opportunity and support,” Sorenson said. “If it involves kids or health in the community, I usually throw in my hat.”

Erica Welch is the special sections editor for The News-Review. She can be reached at or 541-957-4218.

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Community Reporter

Erica Welch is the special sections editor for The News-Review, mother of two and a native of Roseburg. She is an alumni of Roseburg High School, UCC and Western Oregon University. Contact her at or 541-957-4218.

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