Dordt College News

Dordt Professor Dennis Vander Plaats awarded Iowa Teacher Education Distinguished Service Award

April 15, 2013

Dr. Dennis Vander Plaats’ compassionate teaching style and his quiet leadership qualities have helped direct the work of the Dordt College education department for 20 years. Recently, his contributions in teaching students to be teachers has been recognized with the Iowa Teacher Education Distinguished Service Award given by the Iowa Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (IACTE). This prestigious honor is reserved for those who “contribute in significant ways to the development of quality pre-service and in-service teachers in the state [of Iowa],” states IACTE.

Colleagues call Vander Plaats “knowledgeable, an encouraging spirit, a great mentor, and an excellent teacher educator” who works “quietly and tirelessly to provide a high-quality, experiential preparation program.”

His leadership style earned him the respect of colleagues and students. “Dennis does not have an ego, never looks for recognition, and is quick to listen and slow to speak,” said Dr. Timothy Van Soelen, Dordt College professor of education. “These are traits that I have come to admire in him and attempt to emulate.”

“Dennis’ fingerprints show up all over my teaching practice,” said former student and current colleague David Mulder, Dordt College instructor of education. “His support has had an obvious impact on my thinking about teaching and learning.”

Vander Plaats confessed that he never liked school when he was a student, and that his own experiences help him identify with students he teaches. He hopes that he has been able to help future teachers catch a passion for teaching as serving, to sense that they have the call, authority, and responsibility to find ways for every student to gain the skills and knowledge they need to be “who God intended them to be,” he said. “Teaching is not about power, but about service. And achievement doesn’t give a student worth; being God’s child does.”

Retiring at the close of the academic year, Vander Plaats hopes that students who leave Dordt’s teacher education program never stop wanting to learn. “When you’re convicted that every square inch of the world belongs to the Lord—teaching tools, curriculum, and pedagogical strategies, even the structure of schooling itself—then professional improvement never stops and you’re always looking for new ways to help your students develop in the fullest way possible.”

In addition to his work at Dordt, Vander Plaats has taught elementary and middle grades classrooms at Northern Michigan Christian School, Orange City Christian School, and Calvin Christian School (Sioux Falls). He earned his secondary education bachelor of arts at Dordt College, elementary education bachelor of arts at Sioux Falls College, master of arts in teaching from Augustana College, and his doctorate of education from the University of South Dakota.

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