It can be said that a career in teaching will be full of surprises. Some surprises are truly great ones. This was the case for Amery High School teacher Derrick Meyer when he found out via a virtual meeting Aug. 27, he had been chosen as one of five 2021 Wisconsin Teachers of the Year and unexpected congratulated by an auditorium filled with his family and AHS staff.
State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor recognized five exemplary Wisconsin educators as the 2021 Wisconsin Teachers of the Year. Meyer, Koren Jackson, Milwaukee Transition High School, Milwaukee; Trisha Kilpin, Greendale School District, Kilpin; Brooke Kintzle (nee Lederman), Brodhead Middle School, Brodhead School District and Susan Richardson, Milwaukee German Immersion School, Milwaukee Public Schools.
“Teachers have the incredible responsibility of educating our children and inspiring them to grow,” Stanford Taylor said. “I am honored to recognize these five educators for their dedication and commitment to Wisconsin students and to call them our 2021 Wisconsin Teachers of the Year.”
Meyer said, “I am obviously humbled and honored to receive this award. To represent the 1000’s of amazing teachers from around the State of Wisconsin is a dream come true. I am learning to embrace this honor and make sure that I let the word out that we have fantastic programs across this State and Nation. I will do my best to represent the community of Amery the best I know how. It is important to me that they know what an incredible community we have stashed up here in Northwestern Wisconsin. Our educational system from public schools to private schools is second to none. We have some of the highest quality teachers, support staff and administration in the business. I am proud to represent not only Amery but the entire State.”
Meyer said he enjoys the personal connections he makes with the students and he loves to see his students succeed. “Besides being the Agriscience teacher and FFA Advisor, I am also the driver’s education instructor. That gives me an opportunity to meet almost every student. I love the interactions I have with so many different students from the valedictorian types of kids to the cognitively disabled students. In fact, some of my most memorable moments come from students that often times, my courses are the only regular education courses the students have ever taken. Some of these students have taken the same course 4 to 5 times,” said Meyer.
He feels the reason for this is because they are attracted to his animals. I have over 30 animals in the classroom ranging from chinchillas, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, mice and over 300 types of fish. “I also take kids out to Vicky and Kenny Hill’s farm and we train horses. Animals give a connection to students whether they are cognitive or regular education. Many students with behavioral and emotional problems can’t talk to humans very well, but an animal calms them down. Animals teach my students to trust and it often opens up their minds. The value of being able to work with plants and animals everyday inspires my kids,” he said.
FFA is also something Meyer truly enjoys. The FFA organization allows his students to learn premier leadership, personal growth and to obtain career success. Meyer said, “I don’t know one student that has ever been harmed by learning how to build leadership skills. We do it in so many different ways. Our students do things that are ‘larger’ than them. It takes a group of people in order to accomplish them; this includes help from our Alumni and members of the community. Programs like Food for America where we teach over 300 third – fifth graders about where their food comes from or the Farm in the City day where we have a petting zoo and pancake feed at the Countryside Cooperative.”
He believes the students learn to give back to the community through community service projects like planting 10,000 trees, or making rain gardens or even helping pick up debris after a terrible tornado.
“I would be remised if I didn’t talk about all of the places we have gone from Glacier National Park to Scotland! We have won so many speaking and career development contests that it is hard to count. In my 15 years of being in Amery we have had 10 State Officers, 1 State President, 2 National Officer Candidates, 42 state championships in varies contests, and a handful of National finalist and a couple National Champions. I love that I have a chance to make a difference not only in the classroom but also outside of the classroom. That is what I love about teaching,” he said.
When asked what made him decide to go into teaching, Meyer said, “Teaching was a way of life for my family. Really, it is all I knew. Thinking back to my childhood I can start off with my dad. For many of my first years he was also an agriculture teacher and a very good one at that! I remember many students coming over to our house all of the time to learn how to do parliamentary procedure or for FFA meetings planning activities. I remember going on trips to Green Lake and all over the State with his amazing students. They treated me so well!”
He said his mom and dad were inspirations to many of these students, in fact they had a couple of students from very challenging home lives that actually moved in with the Meyer family to finish off their high school years. “My mom and dad took them in and ‘saved them.’ That is what both of those adults tell us…even today. Both of those students became my siblings… they even came to all our weddings and large events,” said Meyer.
Meyer’s young school years were full of teachers that he wanted to be like. He said, “I grew up in Loyal, a small town in the middle of Wisconsin. Besides the farms, the school was the main focus of the town. We had incredible teachers. Starting with my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Picket that had the most amazing classroom. It was so welcoming. She even had a rabbit that ran around the classroom. I wanted to be just like her.”
“My sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Fischer taught me the love learning. Her class was tough, but I couldn’t wait to see what we were going to do next! Mrs. Butterbrodt, my High School English teacher pushed me to speak all of the time,” said Meyer.
Meyer feels it is important to know he was also a part of 4-H and the FFA growing up. “My parents pushed my siblings and I to do speeches. I remember going to the ‘Talent Explosion’ in Eau Claire every year. Mrs. Butterbrodt often came along. If we didn’t win, she would get all upset; she couldn’t believe they didn’t pick us. She pushed me to do Forensics, made me write for the school paper and made sure I always was prepared,” he said.
Meyer said all of these teachers made a personal relationship with him that even today brings back good memories. “When I went to college, I kind of lost that passion and didn’t think I wanted to teach any longer but, I was so far along that I decided to finish out my agriculture education degree. The last part is to student teach. At that time my fiancé was from a little town in Amery, Wisconsin. I decided to save money and moved in with Debbie’s parents. Debbie was still going to college so it worked out perfectly. Then, I met the best teacher that I have ever known, Mr. Gary Ganje. That is when I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I got my passion back,” he said.
Meyer said Ganje taught him how to love every student, how to welcome students in his classroom and to make students smile the entire time they were learning.
He feels all these teachers were his role models and he wanted to be just like them. Meyer said, “Teaching started and ended for me as the only natural God given talent that I have a passion to do. That is why I became a teacher.”