The Impact of a Great Teacher

President Greg ChristyFrequently, today’s headlines focus on the challenges facing education in the United States. President Obama has set a goal of recruiting 100,000 new math and science teachers because he believes that out-competing countries like China and Germany in the future requires out-educating them today—especially in fields like science, technology, engineering and math.

Here in Iowa, Gov. Branstad has made world-class schools one of his top four priorities for 2013. The governor has proposed reforms to raise student achievement and prepare them for jobs in a competitive global economy. I applaud these efforts and desire to work with leaders to improve education at all levels.

Preparing excellent teachers has always been a high priority at Northwestern. We began teacher preparation only 12 years after our founding in 1882 as a classical academy. Today teacher education is still our second largest major, and the quality of the program remains as strong as ever.

We have been blessed with tireless, top-rate education faculty, as exemplified by Dr. Ron Juffer ’56. Ron retired officially in 2002, but after dedicating more than 40 years to mentoring teachers, he still works part time, primarily placing student teachers and ensuring their experiences in K-12 classrooms prepare them to be master educators.

My wife, Michelle, and I have witnessed the fruit of Ron’s and his colleagues’ work firsthand since moving to Orange City. Most of our children’s teachers the last five years have been Northwestern graduates, and we have been impressed—even awestruck—by the quality of their teaching and interpersonal interactions with our kids. One has proven to be simply amazing.

Laura (Van Ommeren ’83) Haverdink teaches orchestra at the K-12 level for the MOC-Floyd Valley School District. The first time we heard the middle school orchestra perform, we thought we were listening to a high school orchestra. Laura’s love for her students, passion for teaching, and commitment to excellence distinguish her as one of the best educators we have ever known.

Her involvement with her students and the community extends far beyond the classroom. She provides lessons in her home throughout the summer months, takes elementary school children to perform for area senior citizens, and even buys the kids their favorite ice cream treat afterward. The impact Laura has had on our 11-year-old son is remarkable. Kyle is dedicated to learning the cello because his teacher is dedicated to him as a musician and as a person. He knows she cares, so he cares.

Meaningful learning occurs because of many things, but nothing brings out the best in students like a great teacher. I am thankful for Ron, Laura and countless others like them who have been prepared to teach here at Northwestern and are committed to educating young people who will make a difference in our country, world—and God’s kingdom.

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