November 23, 2021
Photo courtesy of Ava Boedeker
A passionate teacher, advocate for kindness, tater-tot lover, and the longest-tenured teacher at Westfield High School, Teri Vander Wyden, or as she’s more commonly known, V-dub, is an inspiration to both teachers and students.
As Westfield continues to grow from a rural speck of fields and farmhouses into a sprawling urban jungle, WHS has been swept up in a whirlwind of change. Today when one walks into Westfield High School, they’re greeted by a brick building of mammoth proportions with hundreds of classrooms stretching the length of three football fields. However when V-dub first arrived it was an entirely different place.
“It was a much, much, smaller place,” Vander Wyden said. “We were not in this building, we were in what is now the middle school and everybody knew everybody, there were a lot fewer teachers… when students walk around you’d see them the same time every day, and you’d always say hello to people in the hall, so it was nice in that way that everybody knew everybody. The Special Ed department has grown a lot, we’re the biggest department in the building... [When I started] I was the only one who did learning disabilities, now there’s nine of us!”
Over her thirty-five years at Westfield she’s seen almost everything short of the sky falling. From getting hit by a water balloon during a spontaneous beach party to the struggles of teaching during the pandemic, Vander Wyden’s career started with what she now calls “What must have been divine intervention.” When she sat down in a counselor's office at Indiana University, she had no idea she was about to go down a path that would form the rest of her life. And like any true teacher she has learned almost as much as she’s taught.
“To learn from the teachers who’ve been here for a while, take their advice, and to not think I know it all,” Vander Wyden said in response to what advice she’d give her younger self.
Vander Wyden runs her classroom by the learning ambush method, hiding federalism behind fun and jurisdiction behind jokes. She calls herself “Silly on the outside, pure steel on the inside.” She wants her students to grow into independent thinkers and be able to think positively. She truly believes students are what make Westfield the place that it is and has a passion to help them any way she can.
“[Teaching] makes me feel like I do good in this world every single day,” Vander Wyden said. “Even on the days that haven’t been so great like when the stage collapsed… but we’ve hung together, we’ve gotten through it and we’ve just become an amazing place.”
The past few years have been an especially trying time for both Vander Wyden and the rest of the Westfield community. She recounted the difficulties of caring for her students’ needs and helping keep them positive. She recalled the struggle of teaching in a seemingly apocalyptic situation.
“It’s really hard to read the emotions from people, because you really can’t see what’s going on. We are people who need people, that interpersonal is very important... What I learned is I could do it. I could teach all day long with a mask.”
Through it all, V-Dub has remained, even though one can’t always see it, a smiling friendly face in the Westfield hallways. She is someone who values the relationships she makes through teaching and it’s part of what makes the profession such a joy for her. She whole-heartedly believes the struggle is worth it in the end.
“My mom was such an advocate for teachers,” she said. “She said one day to me ‘The teachers at Westfield High School you have such everyday courage.’ We do have courage, everyday we go in and we do what we do and it’s because we love the kids. But it takes a lot of courage to do that because last year we didn’t know about this, here we are, we’re still doing it because you guys matter. Thank you for struggling with us.”