Brian VanDerlaske ’09 NC TEACH is an English teacher at West Johnston High School and the recipient of the 25th Annual Flame for Learning Award presented by the Johnston County Association of Chambers of Commerce. The award allows VanDerlaske to compete in the North Carolina Teacher of the Year program, beginning with a regional competition this fall.
In the Q&A interview below, we talked with VanDerlaske about his passion for education, what skills he hopes every student leaves his English classroom with, and how the NC TEACH program at the NC State College of Education helped him achieve his professional goals.
What made you want to become a teacher?
The first thing that made me want to be a teacher was the amazing teachers I had in high school. They really did a great job making learning interesting and engaging. The second motivating factor was my love of reading. I thought this was a perfect way to share something that has brought so much joy to my life.
How did the NC TEACH program at NC State help you meet your career goals?
I moved to North Carolina from New York in 2002 with the interest in becoming a teacher via lateral entry. All I had heard while I was in college was how short of teachers the state of North Carolina was and how anyone could get a job if they had a degree. After a fruitless few years interviewing and going to job fairs I knew I needed to something that would give me an opportunity to show the school districts what I was capable of. The NC TEACH program was perfect for that, it shaped all of my prior knowledge I had gained in college and then showed me how to transform that into real-world classroom skills. I know that had I not attended NC TEACH I would not be where I am.
What do you like most about teaching?
The best aspect of a career in education is the opportunity to engage in new experiences every year, every semester, every day and pretty much every class. No two days are the same and no two classes are ever completely similar. I have had many wonderful experiences as a high school teacher both in and out of the classroom. I have seen students accomplish goals they swore they would not be able to, I have chaperoned more proms than I can remember, I have served as the announcer for varsity and junior varsity football games, I have supervised field trips and last year was my first year calling the names of the graduating class as they walked across the stage.
What inspired the Kindness and Gratitude Project you implement in your classroom? How do your students respond to that?
The Kindness and Gratitude Project was created as a way to give students an opportunity to perform a professional presentation in a setting that best engages them in a 21st century setting. It is designed to have students think about how to prepare and present themselves to an audience they may encounter in the future, be that in a professional or educational setting. The acts of kindness are simply a means to give them a story to tell when they are on stage. By having them choose what acts they would like to do they have the opportunity to demonstrate their interests and strengths. Generally, students are apprehensive about going on stage and delivering a presentation, but by the time they are done, the majority of them say they feel more prepared to do it when it counts. Some of the students do an amazing job with their acts and really demonstrate a true understanding of how kindness can help make the world a better place for all of us.
Why is it important to you that your students leave your class with skills that will help them in a professional setting?
I like to tell my students that one of the hardest realizations I had to come to as a teacher was that not every student was going to be as excited to read Shakespeare or poetry as much as I was, but my job was to be able to make sure they are prepared for whatever life path they chose. I feel that students that take my class are prepared to be better readers, writers, thinkers and listeners when they go off to school, find a job or enroll in the military.
Are your expectations for the upcoming school year different now that you’re Teacher of the Year for your district?
Being Teacher of the Year has been a tremendous honor, but my expectations haven’t changed. Every year I set out to improve upon what I did last year and be a better teacher for my students than I was the year before. I did have the opportunity to address the beginning teachers in Johnston County before the school year started, and that was another amazing experience in my educational journey.