Magazine Feature / People

Jayne Vahle’s passion makes her an accomplished teacher

Jayne Vahle (BA English ’99) grew up in Bartlesville, Okla., graduated at the top of her high school class and received a full scholarship to attend DU. She expected to study biochemistry and law and had a burning desire to prove that she could do great things despite her rural background.

Then, in her sophomore year, an English course changed her life. She was surprised — and distressed — to realize that she wanted to teach.

“Teaching is not seen as a career that successful people pursue,” says Vahle, who now is pursuing an MA in English at DU. “It’s seen as the backup plan, not the goal. I worried a lot about my decision to be a teacher.”

It turned out to be a good choice. In 2005, Vahle received the Milken Family Foundation National Teacher Award and joined an impressive group of nationally recognized educators. She also is this year’s recipient of the Founders Day Ammi Hyde Award for Recent Graduate Achievement, one of DU’s highest honors.

Today, Vahle teaches English at Bear Creek High School in Lakewood and says she is a passionate supporter of public education. She frequently researches economic indicators of success and works to develop new teaching methodologies and data.

“I’m the person who corners you at parties and talks about the importance of public education,” she jokes.

Ann Dobyns, professor and chair of DU’s English department, says that passion is exactly what makes Vahle such an asset to the public school system.

“While Jayne is dedicated to teaching literacy in all forms, she is also profoundly engaged in the education of citizens and the ethical dimension of that education. Without teachers like Jayne, the system would just be about basics.”

Vahle admits that she frequently feels exhaustion at the end of a day and that her dreams of the future — for herself and for schools — sometimes seem very far off.

“We must, as a society, ask ourselves how to better serve kids,” she says.

Vahle adds that she is grateful for the DU award because it’s a validation of the career choice she made.

“With this award, DU is saying that you can be accomplished and be a teacher,” Vahle says. “Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I can say, ‘I’m a teacher, and I’m a winner.’”


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