In her eighth grade English classroom at Wyoming Junior High School, teacher Shantel VanderGalien loves to get her students thinking, reading and writing about big topics: climate change, poverty and equity.
She enjoys finishing a text with them and seeing in their faces that something resonates.
“My students need to know that I want to elevate their voices, their concerns and their needs. More importantly though, I want to show them how to be able to advocate for themselves and to achieve their goals,” she said.
VanderGalien was named 2020-2021 Regional Teacher of the Year by the Michigan Department of Education. She represents Region 3 and is among 10 teachers divided by region to receive the honor. She is now in the running for the 2020-2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year.
“My goal as Regional Teacher of the Year is to be a positive voice for the students and teachers in my region and to serve them well,” she said.
VanderGalien has taught English in Wyoming for 16 years in all secondary grades, seventh through 12th. She grew up in Traverse City and earned a bachelor’s degree from Calvin College and a master’s in educational leadership from Michigan State University.
According to a press release from the MDE, honorees were chosen for their dedication to the teaching profession, as evidenced by their commitment to their students and track record of service to the teaching profession.
The Regional Teachers of the Year comprise the Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council, which has the mission of bringing the teacher’s voice to a wider audience. That includes working directly with MDE to provide input on proposed policies and initiatives, and helping to share valuable information and resources with colleagues within their respective regions, according to the release.
Some of the biggest issues in education have evolved over the last few weeks while schools have been closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus and districts have started distance learning plans, she said. Issues include creating equity in education in areas like access to technology and connectivity.
“I truly believe that when teachers and policy makers work together, we can have a positive and lasting impact on our students, their families and the communities we serve,” VanderGalien said.
Fellow Wyoming Junior High eighth grade English teacher Katie Sluiter said over the past six years working with VanderGalien as an ELA team, she’s seen VanderGalien “consistently put her students first in all her decisions” as a teacher, advocating for them as a School Improvement Team member, an instructional coach and a classroom teacher.
“She focuses her own research and learning on ways to make her classes more student-focused and equity-based,” Sluiter said. “She pushes others to be their best while also seeking to be pushed to be her best. She is not afraid of being uncomfortable if it means she will learn and be better for her students. She truly is a rock star educator.”
Eighth-grader Wyatt Hall said VanderGalien pushes her students to think deeply. “She is always willing to help when you need it. I also enjoy that she talks about ‘harder’ topics such as racism, abortion, politics… I enjoy that she likes to make class as much fun as possible. Class is always fun, but she always pushes us to our limits because she knows we can do hard work.”