Meet the Teacher: Derek A. Janke, Niles High School

Educators are perhaps the greatest population of unsung heroes in Berrien and Cass County. This school year, Leader Publications will publish a weekly spotlight featuring teachers throughout the district, giving the community a chance to get to know the hard-working individuals shaping their children’s lives. Throughout the next school year, their answers will be published in the newspaper that serves each school district.

Name: Derek A. Janke

School: Niles High School

Grade(s)/subject(s) taught: 9th grade U.S. history, 11th grade world history.

Where did you attend college? Grand Valley State University 2002-2007.

How many years have you been teaching? How many years have you been with your current school? I have been involved with teaching for 12 years now. Two years as a sub, one as an instructional assistant and eight as a classroom instructor. This is my second year teaching at Niles High School, but I graduated from Niles High School Class of ‘02.

Why did you decide to become a teacher? I loved high school. I really enjoyed most of my teachers, athletics, social events. I wanted a career where I wasn’t going to do the same thing every day and [where I could] make an impact in the community. I also loved history (and English). The choice was fairly simple and knew my calling before I left high school.

Outside of school, what do you enjoy doing for fun? Traveling, listening to music, watching sports, eating good/interesting foods, playing video games, and chasing around my two boys.

What is one thing your students may not know about you? I am pretty open with my students. Anything they don’t know, they probably shouldn’t know.

Who is your favorite fictional character and why? Tie between Tyrion Lannister — sarcastic, funny, witty, calculated and John Marston — principled, rugged, fair, redemption

When you were a student in the grade you teach, what were your favorite hobbies? Ninth/tenth-grade — Baseball. 11th/12th grade playing in a band with the current mayor and friends.

How would your co-workers describe your teaching style and personality? Loud? Dedicated? Fair? It depends on the co-worker. Many of them have no idea what I am like in my classroom.

Who is your biggest role model and why? Doug Janke. Even though we have very different sets of skills, the hard work ethic he instilled made me who I am. Although, often I wish I could do what he can do.

How has education changed in the last 10 years? Positive — We certainly incorporate more technology into the classroom, which is a plus. However, the increase in standardized tests, mandated curriculum, gaps in funding, value placed on educators by society, smart phone distractions, and crushing debt of student loans have started to discourage the college or bust mentality. Need to get back to career and trade readiness and make it easier for students to access higher education without having to live with parents for 10 years out of college. 

What is your best advice to parents to help their child continue growing academically? Don’t push your kids into the places, relationships, careers you want them to go. Let them choose and push them to improve on their own decisions.

If my students learn one thing this year, I hope it is… History is not just about looking at the past, but how it is so important to understanding the now, and predicting the paths ahead.

This photo was taken during homecoming spirit week.

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