Although Turlock High School drama and speech teacher Michele VanNieuwenhuyzen is arguably more accustomed to helping push her students into the spotlight, she took the stage on Tuesday for a change when she was recognized as the California League of High Schools' “Educator of the Year” for Region 6, which includes Amador, Calaveras, San Joaquin, Tuolumne and Stanislaus counties.
“Being named ‘Educator of the Year’ for our region is a huge honor,” said VanNieuwenhuyzen. “It feels great knowing that your work is seen as valuable.”
The CLHS “Educator of the Year” award is given annually to 11 educators, representing regions throughout California, who exemplify educational excellence and who have made significant efforts to implement elements of educational reform in high schools.
“Michele VanNieuwenhuyzen is someone whose name I knew long before I ever met her,” said THS Principal Marie Russell. “As a freshman in Mr. David Jack’s English class at THS I would often hear about the numerous awards and achievements of a certain Michele McDonald and how if we just put a little more time and effort into speech, we might someday win awards like her.”
VanNieuwenhuyzen returned to THS as an English teacher before she ultimately transitioned to teach the drama and speech classes on campus. Russell said that VanNieuwenhuyzen’s leadership helped both programs earn accolades and awards at state and national levels.
“More important than trophies or awards is the impact Mrs. V has had on countless THS students who credit her with changing their lives,” said Russell.
When asked to describe her own teaching style, VanNieuwenhuyzen said that she makes an effort to form connections with her students from the beginning. This connection does not end when students graduate as the teacher said that she also reaches out to past students to let them know that she is proud of them and their accomplishments.
“I have high expectations for students and sometimes those expectations are higher than they have for themselves,” said VanNieuwenhuyzen. “I don’t like to put students in a ‘box.’ I like to know who I’m dealing with, but then given them a chance to prove themselves to me.
“Sometimes it just takes one person to believe you can do something,” added VanNieuwenhuyzen.
After earning the title of “Educator of the Year” at the regional level, VanNieuwenhuyzen will attend the state competition next month in Sacramento.
“I’m not even thinking about winning the state completion,” said VanNieuwenhuyzen. “Right now I am just extremely humbled by being chosen for our region. There are so many phenomenal teachers out there that do not get recognized for their hard work.
“I only hope that I am able to do a good job representing all of those teachers as well,” continued VanNieuwenhuyzen.