Leigh VandenAkker

Teacher of the Year - Utah


It’s not what we know – it’s what we are willing to learn that makes great teachers.

Real knowledge allows for letting go. To do so empowers us with the unique opportunity of continual learning from our students.


Our students are our most valuable customers.

We must create an environment where our students can take risks, make mistakes, and know failure is not an option.


Our students don’t care how smart we are or how many degrees we have.

Our students care how we transfer our knowledge to them. Everything we do in our classroom is about them, student-centered, student-directed. We err in judgment when it becomes about us.


Being right is overrated.

I can be right or I can be happy. I choose to be happy.  Every student who walks through my door deserves to hold their head up high and know they are valued. A teacher does not have the right to get even or put down a student; to do so only makes them a bully.


My greatest education comes from my students.

They have taught me that regardless of the many life-changing events in their young lives, they need hope.  They need to believe. They need someone to believe in them. They deserve their own education of empowerment. I teach them, education is the foundation for living an empowered life.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Leigh M. VandenAkker is Utah’s 2012 Teacher of the Year and winner of Utah’s 2011 Golden Apple Award. VandenAkker is co-author of Techniques for Tough Times, a curriculum created to aid classroom teaching of communication and anger management skills. VandenAkker’s advanced education includes a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and a M.Ed. degree from Utah State University. In addition, she is a certified mediator through the University of Utah’s Post Graduate Conflict Resolution Program. VandenAkker is presently a full-time teacher at East High School in Salt Lake City School District.