Outstanding Teacher of the Year

Michele VanNieuwenhuyzen

Michele VanNieuwenhuyzen

Dance Program Director/Chair Visual and Performing Arts
A.B. Miller High School
Fontana, California

Michele grew up in a small town in the San Joaquin Valley, where her father was the president of the school board and where everyone knew everyone. When she was in the 3rd Grade, the family moved to Turlock where she attended and graduated from Turlock High School before going on to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA where she majored in Theater. Because Michele enjoyed working with young children, she began working in a K-8 Theater programs and became an Artist in Residence for Children’s Theater. The thought of teaching at that time has not yet entered her mind.

When Michele’s boss gave her her first formal evaluation she said she thought Michele needed to be a teacher because she had such a kind and calm manner when dealing with the young children. After a few more years of doing Childrens Theater at Delta College, starting a Gymboree program for 3-5 year olds, Michele finally decided teaching might not be so bad. She went back to National University to get a teaching credential and in the early stage of her credential program, a long term sub position came up and she took a job teaching kindergarten in a small Catholic school. By the time the teacher at that school returned, she had received her credential and was offered a job teaching kindergarten at an elementary school in Manteca, where she taught for 10 years.

One day, Michele received a call from her former high school drama teacher who asked if she might be willing to volunteer to help with the drama program at Turlock High School. She agreed and spent time her late afternoons and evenings helping him in the planning and production of his plays. Through this experience, she felt the pull of the drama program and began to think about how nice it might be to return to her Alma Mater to teach drama. Not long after, her former drama teacher at Turlock retired and recommended Michele as his replacement. Michele was hired to teach reading and English to the lowest level of students which, for her, made for an interesting transition moving from teaching 5 year olds to teaching 14 and 15 year old delinquent types.

Michele adjusted quickly and found she truly loved these “delinquents.” They quickly became her delinquents and she had a great time teaching them. What really surprised her was how appreciative they were. They told her she was the first teacher who paid attention to them and wanted to really teach them. For them, Michele was someone who cared about them and took the time to talk with them and listen to them. But, while some behaved like her former 5 year olds, they were bigger versions and needed much more structure and direction.

From this group, Michele learned the value of believing in the potential of a student and the need to know how to set boundaries and expectations. She discovered all students could accept the challenge of more difficult work than they had been used to as long as they new she thought they were capable enough to do it and she was willing to help them. They taught Michele that even the most difficult kids want to learn and will learn if given the time, space, guidance, direction, love and support. It was a memorable year her her because she learned so much about herself and her teaching.

Michele is forever grateful to that special teacher she has admired her entire life she wants to do for her students what her teacher did for her: To become the teacher who opened her eyes to possibilities; the one who exposed her to the world of literature and language; the one she wants her to students to always remember. She is dedicated to the idea of passing the torch of what she was so graciously given.

-Published 2017

Carlston Family Foundation is now Above & Beyond Teaching