Darrel Holbrook and Heather Thompson have over fifty-years of combined experience in teaching and working with students. However, even that amount of time doesn’t begin to cover the imprint they’ve made on their students’ lives, nor the impact they have had on both Vandalia Schools and the larger Vandalia community
Born and bred in Vandalia, Darrel Holbrook decided to become a teacher specifically because he himself was not always a straight-A student. As he notes, he sometimes, “Messed-up, or got into trouble, or didn’t do my homework.” His grades were mostly B’s and C’s. Despite his less-than-stellar early academic career, he shares his story enthusiastically with his students today, and with good reason. He does it so they can understand that even future teachers struggled with school sometimes, and that need not be a dead-end.
Darrel explains that he shares his stories in the hopes that it makes him more relatable to his students, so that they view him — not as someone to be placed on a pillar or a pedestal —but rather, as someone like themselves, who can still grow up and carve a successful path toward the professional ambition of their choosing.
Not only does Darrel describe the challenges he faced as a student, but he also tells his students about the types of jobs that he had while he was in high school and college – experiences like working in fast food, or in retail. That way, they also remain aware that he wasn’t always a teacher or a professional, and that professional achievement of any kind is a process, a journey. As Darrel notes, he worked through various types of jobs to earn money until he was able to graduate from college and fulfill his dream of becoming a science teacher. When he did graduate, he was able to move straight from substitute teaching to being hired as a sixth grade science teacher at the junior high. The fact that he went through Vandalia schools and college, regionally, also helps to cement his reputation as a relatable inspiration to students, because they can see what someone from their own schools and community can accomplish, despite the challenges and obstacles one may have encountered as a student along the way.
Heather has worked for the past twelve years with Darrel as a teacher’s aide, although she, too, has numerous additional responsibilities, including working with other teachers and students. Together, when they circle a room full of students, they are able to amply address broadly divergent student capabilities so that, as a team, they can effectively serve a diverse range of students’ needs.
While Darrel focuses on the content side of things, Heather watches for assistance that individual students may need. Although Heather modestly understates her own contributions, Darrel puts on his teacher hat and cites a laundry list of the things she does for the students and how valuable they are. As he points out, she can simply walk in and read the room, providing things for the students before the students – or even Darrel himself – quite realize what they might have been missing. Heather not only cares for the kids, but she provides them with whatever they need so that both they and the class remain squarely on track.
Both Darrel and Heather comment on how their ultimate goal is to help students leave school with the tools to go out and do whatever it is that they want, or whatever it is that will make them most happy, whatever that might turn out to be. They see their roles clearly as providers of options through academic preparation. Darrel notes in particular how sometimes there’s a push for students to go to college, but as he himself was never part of that ‘college-track’ experience, he realizes the value in all walks of post-secondary life, like trade schools, the armed forces, working in a family business, a family farm, or other jobs. He absolutely doesn’t have a preference as to what his students do, so long as they can be happy and productive doing it. He realizes that they are fully capable of accomplishing whatever they wish to achieve in life, and he simply wants them to be as prepared as possible to make it happen. He brings up the example of a former student who might have been very much like he was. This student went into the military and, years later, reconnected with Darrel, just to let his junior high science teacher know that he’d decided to go on to medical school. The two talked science through their email exchange, and Darrel commented on how fascinating it was to hear the student describe diagnoses and other biological phenomena, but most of all, enjoyed hearing him enthuse over the pursuit of his dream.
All of this just goes to show that, with teachers like Darrel and Heather supporting the science students of Vandalia, that they can truly accomplish anything they choose and to which they are willing to commit. Darrel and Heather both serve as prime hometown examples of what Vandalia students can become when they put their minds to it. Most importantly, they can find the ways and the paths to being happy, whatever they decide the future may hold for them!