Student Nomination Story

“Every one of my students is important in their own unique way.” - Mr. Van Dyck A dedicated teacher is not one who simply teaches the facts to the masses, but one who inspires a love of learning in each and every student, as if they had only one, and who reveals the hidden talents of each student as an individual. Unfortunately, these special teachers are few and far between, and after twelve years of being a student in the public education system, I thought my chances of coming across a truly dedicated teacher at this point were close to none. Until, towards the end of my Junior year, I met Mr. Van Dyck. When my parents first suggested that I enroll in a computer science class, I wasn’t too thrilled. I had no prior experience with coding, unlike many other high school students in the Silicon Valley, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the class material. My family encouraged me to think about it, stating that if I wanted to major in engineering in college, I had better start somewhere. I took their advice, and scheduled a meeting with Mr. Van Dyck for lunchtime the very next day, so I could ask him whether I would be the right fit for his class or not. I was very nervous as I stood outside the door of his classroom, but looking back I had no reason whatsoever to be anxious. Mr. Van Dyck kindly welcomed me into his classroom, and as soon as I got to talking with him, I felt at ease. I told him about my predicament, and he explained to me the origins of his computer science course and what the class would be like. Mr. Van Dyck worked with two other computer science teachers to develop a summer school program for Google called C.A.P.E. - Computing And Programming Experience. The course that he teaches at my high school is a modified and enhanced version of the summer program that ran at Google for 5 years. He wrote the course himself and was the project leader and lead trainer. He trained all the faculty that were hired to run the program, which ran in multiple locations all over the country. The first year he traveled all over the nation to support the staff that he trained. He also worked for the CalState Teach program, as well as pioneering a research company called Embark Labs, where he taught 2,000 students - from kindergarteners to college professors. He was able to teach the material to kindergarteners by simplifying it, and was also able to make it more advanced and teach the same course to college professors. Mr. Van Dyck also explained how the class would be a fun and hands-on introduction to coding, and told me how he makes sure that all the students in his class understand the material, not just those experienced in coding, and how his class would help me with my major of choice. He invited students from his class to tell me about their experiences as well, and welcomed and encouraged me to take his class. I readily accepted, and he even talked to my counselor to ensure I got a place in his class. For the first time in many summers, I eagerly anticipated the coming of the following school year. Fast forward to my Senior year. Every day I look forward to logging into fifth period and attending Mr. Van Dyck’s class. He always greets his students with a smile and asks us how we are doing. And he always tells us how he truly cares about us, and that if we ever need someone to talk to, he is always there to listen. He jokes with us too; I am always cracking up at his jokes from behind my computer screen. And every Thursday (I don’t have his class on Friday), he plays the song “Aloha Friday” to celebrate the coming weekend. That’s what I like about Mr. Van Dyck, one of the things that makes him so different from other teachers. He doesn’t talk down to us, or treat us as inferior, or pretend that we don’t know anything. He respects us, and treats us as friends and equals, and he understands the problems high school students face, especially in these challenging times. He starts off every day by giving us valuable life advice that helps us not only succeed in the workplace but teaches us to be better people. And he makes learning fun. We do several coding projects throughout the year, some even at the college level. But Mr. Van Dyck walks us through the projects step by step, and makes sure that we truly understand the material. He explains his method of teaching, saying that anybody can get an A in a class, even if they don’t understand anything they are being taught. All one has to do is to figure out the teacher’s grading system, or find the answers online. “I teach for understanding,” he says, “and I grade you not on your failures, but on your successes.” Mr. Van Dyck does not deduct points for every mishap that occurs while making the project, but instead measures the success of our finished projects. And through every project, he provides individual support for each student. Mr. Van Dyck compares the class to a wolf pack. “The pack is only as strong as its weakest member,” he tells us, “and I’m going to the back of the pack to make sure no one is left behind. If you are struggling, I’m not going to let you fail. If you meet me part of the way, I’m not going to let you fall behind. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t make sure that I have all of you successfully on the same page. And I’m not afraid to do what it takes to get you there.” Whenever I was struggling, Mr. Van Dyck took time out of his day during class and sometimes over an hour after class to help me with any problems that I encountered. He helped me through the learning process at my own pace, and soon I realized that I was not only succeeding at coding, (something that one year ago I thought was pretty near impossible), but that I truly enjoyed it. In addition, he encouraged me to challenge myself more to improve upon my coding skills, which led to even bigger successes. Because Mr. Van Dyck puts in every effort he can to make sure each student understands the material, I am able to put my best effort into each project. Mr. Van Dyck inspires us to be creative in our coding projects and to challenge ourselves. He has even persevered through health issues to come to class every day. Mr. Van Dyck is changing the education system one student at a time, and has encouraged me to achieve things I would have never thought possible. He has given me college advice, answered my emails in the middle of the night, and instilled in me a love of learning of which I had not experienced for twelve years. There is no one that is more deserving of this award than Mr. Van Dyck. He is not only an inspiration for how to be an excellent teacher but an exceptional person. I consider him a mentor and a friend, and I am honored and privileged to have him as my teacher. Thank you Mr. Van Dyck.

Michelle Badall

To see more exceptional teacher nominees, visit The Honor Roll.