Golden Apple winner teaches with compassion, drive and love of learning
By Kris Leonhardt
GREEN BAY – Recent Golden Apple winner, Derek Zahn, teaches with compassion, drive and love of learning.
The Pulaski High School science teacher was among eight educators selected by the Greater Green Bay Chamber and its Golden Apple partners during the 2023 program.
Zahn said that he possesses three traits that allow him to be an effective educator — compassion, drive and a lifelong love of learning.
“Compassion makes an impact as an educator because students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Sometimes a teacher may be the only positive adult a student interacts with all day, and I strive to be the type of teacher a student can look up to and turn to if they ever need anything,” Zahn explained.
“If you show a student that you care about what happens to them, regardless of if they are having their best day or their worst day, then they will become engaged in what you have to say, which can change their whole view on life and education. I teach primarily at-risk students, and the biggest thing that contributes to success in the classroom is getting to know the students and their interests both academically and personally.
“By getting to know my students and their interests, it allows me to adapt the content to what inspires them in life, which leads to higher levels of engagement and allows them to take learning beyond the classroom.
“Drive makes an impact as an educator because if a student sees that you are willing to go the extra mile to help them and that you will never give up on them, even when they may have given up on themselves, then they will realize that they are capable of more than they ever thought possible.
“Being driven to help students to achieve their goals both academically and personally allows students to build a positive self-image which is extremely important in life. There is no better feeling than seeing a student start to walk a little taller in the hallways because they started believing in themselves.
“A lifelong love of learning makes an impact as an educator because when a student sees your passion for the content and that you are loving what you do, then they will most often match that energy creating a fun and engaging learning environment.
“I am constantly researching new and inventive ways to engage my learners based on their personal interests to help them take learning beyond the classroom. If you can relate the content to students’ everyday lives, then they will naturally become engaged in the material which will hopefully foster a lifelong love of learning.
“By possessing these traits, it allows me to have an impact on my students’ lives like my teachers had on me.”
Zahn said that he works to provide every student with an equal opportunity to succeed.
“This is why on the first day of class I have students create a get-to-know-you t-shirt on paper in which they tell me about their hobbies, family and their academic and personal goals,” he explained.
Zahn said that allows him to get to know the student’s interests and needs in order to help them “develop skills to succeed academically and in the next chapter of their lives.”