A Conversation with Dan Alderson – A CityU Alumni and the 2011 Milken Educator Award Recipient for Washington
On October 2011, Dan Alderson, a CityU alumus and English teacher at Lake Stevens High School, was sitting in a pep assembly with his students and colleagues like he has done several times before. The Viking pep band drummed up great excitement while Alderson and his students filled the gym bleachers and awaited an announcement. Little did he know, he was moments away from being awarded the $25,000 grand prize and the elite honor of the 2011 Milken Educator Award for Washington. Only 1,000 educators have been selected for this award over the past 25 years.
The crowd was quieted when State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn opened with a few remarks. Dorn then opened the very top secret envelope which had the award winner’s name enclosed. Dorn read aloud – “Dan.” (Pause) “Alderson.”
According to reports the crowd began to cheer for their teacher and colleague – “Alderson, Alderson, Alderson.” Once “Alderson” stood in front of the cheering, excitable, crowd he said humbly, “In all honesty, as we were listening to the qualifications for this award, I was thinking of so many of my colleagues – people who work hard and inspire students. I had no idea. This feels totally undeserved. (My motto) is whatever is best for my students…and whenever people ask me why I teach, I tell them that I am addicted to light bulbs, I love that moment when a light bulb goes on in a kid’s head. That ‘aha!’ moment.”
To say CityU is proud of Dan Alderson is an understatement. We are thrilled that he is making a difference in people’s lives and delighted to see that he puts the student first – always. Like CityU, he is dedicated to educating anyone with the desire to learn. Dan Alderson is inspirational and is an educator who we are proud to call an alumni and a faculty member.
That said, we wanted to catch up with “Alderson” and ask him a few questions. Here is what we found out from this award-winning teacher and inspiring man:
CityU’s Interview with Dan Alderson:
City University of Seattle (CU): What do you teach at Lake Stevens High School? What is one thing that excites you about your job? Why?
Dan Alderson (DA): I teach English 10, Creative Writing, and Advanced Composition. One thing I love about Lake Stevens High School is that I’m surrounded by amazing professionals. Sure, there’s been a lot of hoopla about me lately. Honestly, though, I see myself and whatever “good things” that happen in my classroom as the result of thousands of hours of rubbing shoulders with some of the best our profession has to offer.
CU: When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
DA: High school. Mr. Whalen’s World Cultures class hooked me on lifelong learning. Actually, I got talked out of teaching by “friends” who were concerned for my pocketbook. What a load of hooey! I’m so grateful I went back for my degree and got into education. How powerful is it that we/I get to positively shape the next generation?
CU: You are now among 1,000 teachers nationwide who have been recognized by the Family Foundation during the past 25 years – how did it feel winning the Family Foundation National Educator Award?
DA: Surreal. Shocking. Embarrassing.
CU: You are known for having a great passion for teaching – why are you so passionate about your profession? Would you encourage others to go into teaching?
DA: We have the greatest charge of any profession on the planet: help the next generation of the world’s citizens develop into thinking individuals. If that’s not enough to light your passion, I don’t know what is.
Well, that’s really a double- edged sword. Sure, I’d encourage others to get into teaching – there is no greater call. And at the same time, my work with the Professional Teaching Assessment (“ProTeach”) has taught me that teaching is NOT for everyone. Being passionate is a good start, but it’s not enough. Good teachers have to be willing to give up what they “prefer” for what is “best for kids.”
CU: I understand you graduated from our educational leadership program –what was your experience like with CityU?
DA: This is indeed straight from my heart – my experience with CityU was literally life-changing and paradigm shifting. I hit the CityU experience during my third full year of teaching, and I was so hungry for anything I could get my hands on that would help me be better in the classroom.
Kym Cummings and other patient, passionate instructors at CityU pushed me to the edge of my current classroom reality. They asked me to open my eyes and look at new possibilities. The view was breathtaking…
CU: I see that you’re an associate faculty member? What do you teach? How do you like teaching at the college level?
DA: The only thing I’ve taught at the post-secondary level has been Teacher Profession Certification courses. Now they’re called “ProTeach” courses. It is the same, just a different name. Both help practicing professionals (teachers) prepare for their second-tier licensure in the state of Washington.
I love my interactions with my colleagues (aka, “students”). It’s been some of my most interesting, productive and challenging work. In a way, it’s easy. I get to be with all of these great teachers and I’m certain I’ve learned more from them than they have from me. True story! Most likely, my work with CityU’s ProTeach candidates has been what’s been keeping me sharp and fresh.
CU: If you had to teach a “last lecture” what would it be about and who would you teach it to?
DA: Easy. My “last lecture” would be a conversation. A conversation about the power of kindness, possibilities provided by education, and the ethical responsibility we have to pursue social justice. I’d teach it to my four daughters. I’d even hope they’d listen and ask questions.
For more information about this award you can read OSPI’s press release HERE. Thank you Dan for talking with us and for inspiring us to continue to stay focused on the student.