Since 2017, Charter School Capital has invited written and video submissions celebrating exceptional teachers. Named the Dewey Awards—after Mr. Richard Dewey, a teacher close to our hearts at CSC—these stories speak about teachers who provided exceptional mentorship. Every year, we are flooded with a brilliant selection of stories told by students and charter school supporters all over the nation. One winner receives a gift of $1000 to a charter school of their choice. Although we only select one winner, each of these stories is worth sharing, so this week we bring you a story written by Sierra Smith, celebrating Mr. Veenstra of ______.
My Meyers Briggs personality is ENTJ, so one can say I’m quite the extrovert. Yet, I have only three close friends, two being my parents and one my boyfriend. My ENTJ nature has always been front and center, but I have very few with whom I’m close or converse with. My entire life I have wondered why. To this day I don’t have a definitive answer, and admittedly this bothers me (even though I’ll always deny it). Enter Mr. Veenstra, fellow I(E)NTJ and fourth addition to my slow growing friend group.
To give some background, Mr. Veenstra is my senior year philosophy teacher and thesis advisor. You may be wondering how we became friends. Well, the story isn’t necessarily a second Good Will Hunting, but to me it holds the same effect. I have had many friends come and go throughout my high school career, and this senior year, the three people I have chosen to hold close to my heart have made it the best year yet. There’s a catch. Each year I do my best to become close with at least one of my teachers. I’ve found that teachers most times have more to teach than their job description confines them to. Unfortunately, Covid-19 put a halt to my yearly tradition. Online school dug a massive drift between me and my teachers that I could not overcome. I barely had enough motivation to wake up, let alone find a way to make conversation with my teachers outside of class. It was like I didn’t even know them. However, even with choppy audio and the occasional Zoom glitch, a certain teacher stood out to me: Mr. Veenstra. He made a tremendous effort to look after how we were doing and wanted to get to know us as best he could, even if it was through a bad online feed. He didn’t let the ravine online schooling had created get in the way of his connection with his students. Thus began the best friendship I have ever had with a teacher.
My philosophy class is a two-hour class with a ten-minute break in between. Students will leave during the break to converse with each other and breathe in some fresh air, but I tend to stay inside and catch up on schoolwork. Mr. Veenstra would do the same, and so our daily ten-minute conversations began. Every day it would be something different. We have talked about everything from our favorite food (we politely disagree) to Aristotle’s different Greek words for friendship and how they apply to modern day. I can say with certainty that I have never gained so much knowledge from a teacher than Mr. Veenstra. Philosophy is by far my favorite class, not only because of our ten-minute ritual, but because of the curriculum and how Mr. Veenstra teaches it. He goes above and beyond to make every student feel welcome and heard. We are encouraged to share our opinions, no matter how different or controversial they appear, and discuss them respectfully. I have never seen so many people realize they agree with each other, and at the same time, respect other’s opinions if they don’t. Almost every day Mr. Veenstra explains a theory or system that makes me rethink my life, and while this sometimes makes me want to scream “My way of thinking is just fine!” or repeatedly bang my head against the desk, I always walk out the door with a new, valuable lesson learned.
If you gain anything from this Good Will Hunting sequel, know that your teacher is more than someone who teaches off of a lesson plan. They may be a potential friend with a world of knowledge to share. All you have to do is start a ten minute conversation.