Candace Berkley, English teacher at Dallas Center-Grimes High School, was just doing her job.
But, in this case, Berkley just doing her job led to winning the Iowa High School Teacher of Excellence - Teacher of the Year award. This award was given to her by the Iowa Council of Teachers of English after DC-G Principal Scott Blum nominated Berkley.
Berkley has been teaching for 25 years - 22 of those years at DC-G High School.
“I have a passion for reading and writing,” Berkley said. “I really enjoy teaching, but I enjoy talking about writing and I enjoy talking about reading and developing activities to engage kids in those activities.”
While Berkley likes teaching, that was not always her life plan. She first studied theater in college. After realizing there were not a lot of career options in theater, Berkley returned to school to get her master’s degree. However, Berkley has used her theater background to teach drama and direct plays at the high school.
While Berkley is not currently teaching any theater classes, she is teaching AP Composition and College Literature, which are both dual-credit classes with DMACC. She also teaches Creative Writing and will be teaching Novels next semester.
Berkley’s favorite novel to teach is “The Grapes of Wrath.” However, the answer to the question of what her favorite novel is to teach changes all the time, according to Berkley.
“(In the beginning, the students) don’t always like it. And it’s kind of like magic. I always say keep reading, you’re going to love it. And it happens,” Berkley said. “After reading for a couple weeks kids are like ‘I love this book!’ And there are some kids after reading it will say, ‘This is my favorite book.’ … I like teaching that because it’s surprising for them. And mainly because it’s not a book they would pick up on their own.”
Challenging students to read and write is one of Berkley’s favorite parts of her job. But, she also loves that her students challenge her, as well.
“I like high school kids. They’re so smart,” Berkley said. “They keep me on my feet, they keep me learning, they keep my mind really active. I have really, really bright kids. They keep me sharp, and I like that.”
After finding out the news of Berkley’s award, her students were excited for her.
“It made me feel really good about what I’ve done for so long. But I told my students, I’m just doing my job. I don’t think that people need special awards for doing their job,” Berkley said. “But, it did make me feel good to be recognized. My motto has always been work hard and be humble. So when you win an award, it’s hard because I don’t like to be singled out.”
Berkley received her award at the Iowa Council of Teachers of English conference on Thursday, Oct. 11. She gave a speech talking about the important of literacy and how it has changed over the years.
“Sometimes I’m just a little bit concerned by the amount of time kids spend on social media and the kind of reading and writing they experience through social media. I think it’s important to read books and to talk about great literature and to write,” Berkley said. “I don’t ever want to see reading and writing become obsolete. And they probably won’t, but it’s changed. It really has changed.”