It is an honor to feature Leigh Vandenakker on this week’s edition of Thank a Teacher. I have had the privilege to work with Leigh on several teacher leadership activities in the state, and each time I meet with her I am so impressed with her professionalism. Leigh is truly an inspiring educator.
Where did you do your teacher prep? I did my teacher prep at Utah State University. I received my M.Ed. My Master’s Thesis was, “Addressing the drop out rate, What works and what doesn’t.”
Where have you taught in your teaching career? I taught for 15 years in the Granite School District at Taylorsville High School on Redwood Road before jumping districts to Salt Lake District, East High School where I have been for nine years.
(Editors note- if you aren’t familiar with Utah pop-culture, East High is where the Disney series High School Musical was filmed.)
What is the funniest thing a student has ever said? The funniest thing a student ever said to me was when they were looking at a picture I have on my wall of me with President Obama. She asked me, “Is that your husband, Mrs. V.?
What one piece of advice would you give to new teachers? I would tell new teachers to embrace knowledge gained from their students. It is the knowledge that will prove most valuable in your career. It requires listening without judgment and developing empathy.
What is your favorite teacher resource? My favorite teacher resource is other teachers, without a doubt. Teachers understand and offer authentic and relevant resources. They are current and because of time constraints, have the ability to filter through what really is pertinent.
Describe any experience you have had in education policy- I have been fortunate to develop a voice for teachers. My experience with teacher policy was most powerful when Senator Osmond wanted me to head his committee concerning a new bill he was sponsoring. I was honest. I told him, I did not want to end up being the most hated teacher in Utah. He listened. He held town meetings. With the help of Sharon Gallager-Fishbaugh he reversed his decision and pulled the bill. It gave me the courage to offer my voice to other bills where I either agreed or disagreed. Teachers voice is critical. We need to be informed and involved.
What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? The biggest change I would like to see in education would be for teachers to feel valued and know their opinion matters. I would like to see teachers involved in all decisions that affect our profession. I want teachers to be involved in making decisions on the front end, not merely asked their opinion when the decision is all but made. Many policy makers underestimate teachers. They think they know more than the teachers and then teachers have to fix what they put into place. Teachers deserve to be able to pay their bills. They need to raise the starting pay of teachers to at least the same level of other professions which require the same amount of education. The price of an education has continually climbed. Teacher’s salaries have stayed stagnant. No wonder we are facing a severe shortage.
I had the opportunity to meet several of Mrs. V’s students this past week at #ECET2SLC. Her student were so impressive and spoke highly of their beloved teacher. Thank you Leigh for all you do to elevate the profession and for being such a positive influence in so many student and teacher lives.