By Corban University
“Never stop being a student.” These are the first words of advice from the Teacher of the Year for the state of Oregon. Dr. Mandy Vance (’08), a Corban alum and teacher in the Oregon Trail School District, was recently honored by the Oregon Department of Education as Teacher of the Year for the 2023/24 school year.
The presentation of this award was nearly a year in the making, following a rigorous, multi-stage nomination and selection process. As the recipient, Vance will receive a $10,000 cash award and matching $5,000 award for the Oregon Trail School District. She plans to use the money to help set up a scholarship fund for students who want to become teachers.
In true teacher fashion, Vance celebrated this surprise honor by immediately heading out to reinvest in students by teaching at Outdoor School. “Hanging out with kids is the easy part,” she says, “but when I came back, my inbox was just exploding.”
Over the past few weeks, Vance has had several opportunities to be honored by her peers, students past and present, parents, and the community for her dedication to education. “It’s a little bit like being at your own funeral,” she laughs. “I can’t even express how encouraging the past few weeks have been. I’ve received so many emails from past students and parents reminding me of these interactions and hearing about how that one conversation made a difference.”
Vance is currently on special assignment at Cedar Ridge Middle School where she teaches creative science and STEM classes, after spending the previous 15 years at Boring Middle School, primarily teaching health, wellness, and leadership.
For Vance, this special assignment marks the challenges and joys of the profession. “I feel challenged in a way I never have, but it’s been so good,” she says. “As sad as I was to leave my home, where I’ve been for the past 15 years, I am growing immensely. I would recommend it for all educators. I’m a first-year teacher again. It has humbled me and made me step up my game.”
While this year’s Teacher of the Year may feel like a first-year teacher, an irony she contributes to the ever-present need for personal growth and innovation in the profession, Vance has been a mainstay in her district for years. She was instrumental in revamping her school’s advisory program to focus on social-emotional well-being rather than purely academic performance. During the COVID pandemic, she spearheaded a light-hearted, teacher-run morning news show for her school to help encourage distance-learning students, and the sports management course she has developed, which values leadership over talent, is now taught district-wide.
Regardless of her efforts, initiative, and newfound recognition, Vance sees this as a community award, celebrating the team of educators and support staff she works with every day. “I hope that every teacher at some point in their life gets to experience what I have experienced in hearing back from their students about the difference you have made in their life,” she says. “It reminds you why you do what you do. I feel so grateful for that.”
It is a practice she engaged in firsthand during the pandemic, writing encouragement letters to every teacher and Corban professor who had made an impact on her life, many of whom she still relies on for advice. “I brag about Corban all the time,” says Vance. “I had so many friends who didn’t step foot into a classroom until their senior years. I was so grateful to be in the classroom all four years, writing lesson plans from my freshman year on. I walked into the profession so prepared. That is the greatest gift Corban gave me. I knew what I was doing from day one.”
Vance looks back on her time at Corban not only as a season of preparation, but a time for discovering the kind of calling and purpose that continues past the final bell, stretching beyond the four walls of her school. “There are not a lot of other professions that rival the opportunity we have as educators to not only make a difference in the world, but to make a difference in the lives of students,” she says. “It’s such an amazing profession for giving back and making a difference in the world, which is what Corban prepares you to do. It’s my ministry every single day, and I love it.”
While Vance acknowledges that she is beyond grateful for the award, humbled by the recognition, and blessed by the words of encouragement it has brought her, it is not what defines her impact as an educator. She measures her impact in the hundreds of letters of recommendation written for previous students, in the invitations to college graduations, bridal showers, and baby showers, in the unexpected emails recalling advice she had long forgotten, and even in the rare chance to be a bridesmaid at a former student’s wedding.
What lesson should we expect from Oregon’s Teacher of the Year? “Always be a student,” Vance says. “I’m a student of my students. I’m always learning from others, my fellow teachers, mentors. I’ve never arrived. I can always grow and get better. I am always learning. Every student has a story. Get to know it.”
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