“Alan wore a leather jacket, swore the blue street like a biker, and sang the song, ‘My baby can do the Hanky Panky,’” said Sandra Van Thiel, professor of education at John Brown University, as she described her fondest memory in her teaching experience.
In order to discourage Alan’s swearing, Van Thiel began to tell him not to swear loudly. She then told him to whisper and then to mouth the words. Eventually on his own accord, Alan did not swear at all. He later became a really good student and at the end of every day that Van Thiel worked at that school, he came and talked to her.
Alan is just one of the many students who Van Thiel affected as a teacher, a vocation which gave her great fulfillment but which has now come to an end. Van Thiel retires this month from her role at the University.
She stood less than five feet tall and wore a really huge smile on her face and eyes that never lost your attention.
Growing up in Kenosha, Wis. with her parents and brother, Van Thiel knew that she wanted to be a teacher. But the sound of teaching elementary students was not appealing.
“Three things I never wanted to be was a secretary, an airline stewardess, and an elementary teacher,” she said.
However, God had a different plan for Van Thiel’s life.
Her view soon changed when she received a job in her hometown teaching first graders.
“I loved what I was doing. I taught every subject in a self-contained room so that integration between the subjects was very easy.”
Since then, Van Thiel has taught many students for 48 years.
Out of her 48 years, 33 were spent in the education department at the University, where she was a professor and the chair of the education department.
Van Thiel announced her retirement in April. She plans to take care of her elderly mother who lives in Wisconsin.
One of the reasons Van Thiel decided to enter into higher education was to make a greater impact on children by properly preparing teachers.
“I saw what was not occurring,” said Van Thiel. “If I could affect teachers, then I could help more children. Maybe I can affect a whole lot of classrooms.”
Van Thiel strives to produce quality teachers because they change the lives of children.
“She serves us through teaching, energy, care, love, and time,” said Kirstin Vanada, a junior Early Childhood Education major. “She has a lot of enthusiasm for teaching and she is passionate to see new teachers.”
Van Thiel also believes in the power of prayer and she prays fervently for her students.
“God hears those prayers,” she said. “Everyone that I prayed for came to Christ.”
Teaching for Van Thiel is not just a job; to her it is a passion and a ministry.
“I am in full time Christian work no matter where I am,” said Van Thiel. “We need Christians to let their light show in every career and setting.”
Although Van Thiel is retiring, she still hopes to be teaching in the future.
“A good teacher believes that they are the ones responsible for learning or nor learning,” said Van Thiel. “I want the individual to reach their greatest potential and the fruit of the Spirit in their life.”