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The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

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Michael Van Krey: the epitome of teaching excellence

ETHS Japanese teacher receives coveted Morton Schapiro Award for transforming the lives of students
Photo courtesy of Michael Van Krey
Mr. Van Krey (right) standing with Liam O’Carroll (left) at award luncheon during the Northwestern Commencement weekend.

ETHS teacher Michael Van Krey was recently honored with Northwestern’s Morton Schapiro Distinguished Secondary School Teacher Award. Born and raised in a small town in Wisconsin, Van Krey never thought he would be a teacher but after a trip to Japan, that mindset changed.

After Van Krey graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, he planned to attend medical school. Before medical school, he visited Japan and ended up staying there for three years.

“When I got there, I was given the freedom to develop lessons to help kids develop proficiency in English and it sparked an absolute love for teaching that I didn’t even know I had,” Van Krey says.

From that point on, Van Krey became very passionate about his work in the field of teaching. This passion rubbed off on many of his students, especially Liam O’Carroll. Northwestern Alum Liam O’Carroll nominated Van Krey for the Morton Schapiro Award given to him this past summer.

Named after the 16th president of Northwestern University, the Morton Schapiro Award is given to five teachers from around the world who are nominated by Northwestern students. The award honors school teachers who have had a transformative impact on students’ lives.

“It was the greatest honor possible in that it was a former student who took the time to nod to the work I had done with him over his four years in high school and for that work to have had an impact on his education,” Van Krey says.

For 27 years, Van Krey has upheld his commitment to making an impact in and outside of the classroom. In order to accomplish this, he uses learning techniques that may not be seen as often in other classrooms.

“There’s no textbook, never has been. There’s no alignment with ‘go to this chapter that someone else produced.’ My colleague and I really work to make the curriculum as live and real as possible using outside resources and changing it consistently each year. Parts of the process are a lot of self-reflection, coaching, risk-taking, and less [focus] on grammatical correctness,” Van Krey says.

In addition to the importance of the in-class environment, Van Krey also believes in exposing his students to the culture of Japan. Not only does he bring Japan to the classroom but he brings the class to Japan; literally.

“There are several programs in the school that do this but ours is unique in that we have a really long standing connection to our sister school in Niigata, Japan. We are going in 2024 and the last time we went was January of 2020, pre-pandemic. It’s life changing for kids. It’s the best schooling for them because it is literally real life,” Van Krey says.

The application process to go on the trip is rigorous. Senior Ryann Holland is a participant in the Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) here at ETHS. Holland had Van Krey both her freshman and junior year of high school and is planning on going to Japan through the program this upcoming 2024.

There are multiple requirements in order to apply for the heavily desired trip. You must participate in several interviews. If you are still applicable by the end of those interviews you are entered into a raffle.

“There were two parts to apply. First was a written interview on a survey, and based on that survey they narrowed the participants down. Then, the second part is where you actually have to speak Japanese for a long interview. After that you are placed in a lottery and they split the winners into ten boys and ten girls,” Holland says.

If you are one of the twenty participants going on the trip, the school pays for the entire excursion.

“We have to fundraise until all the students are covered, or else no one goes,” says Van Krey.

Holland has enjoyed her time in Van Krey’s Japanese classes throughout her high school career.

“Mr. Van Krey makes the classroom space very open and fun which allows people to be willing to learn,” Holland says. “He’s always supportive, knows his students’ strengths and what they need to work on, and having him know that makes me feel validated in the classroom.”

Not only have students recognized Van Krey’s efforts, but administrators have as well. Superintendent Dr. Marcus Campbell gave Van Krey a recommendation for the Morton Schapiro Award.

“I have nothing but really good things to say about Mr. Van Krey,” Campbell says. “From his integrity and his instructional practice, he is one of the most progressive teachers that we have [here] at ETHS.”

Van Krey says life is about possibilities. His experience in the redirection of his career put into perspective how important taking opportunities is. His advice to his students is to live with an open mind.

“Keep your options open and don’t think your chosen path is the only possible path there is,” Van Krey says. “If you keep your eyes open to things that pop into your life and grab onto those it can become a lifelong love.”

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Audrey Bodine
Audrey Bodine, Staff Writer
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