Canyons School District names Union Middle teacher as teacher of the year
Union Middle School teacher Drew Fosse, who was named Canyons School District’s Teacher of the Year, engages with his middle school students during class. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
Union Middle School teacher Drew Fosse has a system in places that motivates his students to be engaged and participate in class, but that’s not enough.
This summer, he’s revamping it.
“I want to make it better,” he said. “I want the opportunity to have them participate more to reinforce the material they are learning.”
This past year, students worked to win tickets, which they could trade in for prizes.
“Students like tangible rewards, so they’re actively participating to get a chance to wear something like Joe Esposito’s vest, trade seats for the day or get a snack from the ‘forbidden closet,’” Fosse said.
Being able to relate to his students was one of the reasons Fosse was selected as Canyons School District’s Teacher of the Year.
“It’s my second year teaching in Canyons, so it came as a huge surprise,” he said. “When I was named Union Teacher of the Year, I was shocked. It was overwhelming when I was told I was being considered a semifinalist. They came in with a camera and observed me teaching. I couldn’t image anything more.”
More did come when the announcement was made at a Canyons Board of Education meeting — with this honor came $1,000 from the Canyons Education Foundation. Fosse also is Canyons’ Apex Teacher of the Year and his name will advance to the state to be considered Utah’s teacher of the year.
He said his motivating approach stemmed from his first years of teaching — teaching 24 students in a small Oregon town, helping students in a residential treatment center as well as at Escalante (Utah) High School.
Fosse then decided to get his special education endorsement and move his family so he could teach at Union Middle School. When a seventh-grade social studies position opened, he slid into his current role.
Each day, he asks students to explore a statement, such as “I can use geography to propose a solution to a current issue.” He also asks his students to “think, pair and share” as they turn to classmates to discuss what they think.
“I want students to use the approach ‘I do, you do, we do’ so it reinforces what they’re learning,” he said.
Seventh-grader Kailee Stroud appreciates his teaching method.
“He lets us have a chance to talk to our partner about what we’re learning so we’re able to make connections,” she said. “He interacts with all the class and rewards us for wanting to learn. It’s a fun class.”
Principal Kelly Tauteoli said his students feel at ease with Fosse’s approach.
“By having students go back and forth with each other, they feel comfortable to try even if they make mistakes,” she said. “So when it is their turn to speak in front of everyone, they have confidence. He has high expectations for his kids and he makes them feel they can do and achieve anything. His students feel like they’re in college with discussions, and are eager to present their viewpoints.”
Even so, Fosse said the class is designed to be fun.
“When students are having fun, they’re wanting to learn more. Kids are trying everything, working together and realizing they can take their learning to a higher level,” he said.
Fosse credits the district with teaching techniques he’s learned through professional development.
“Students need explicit instruction so they realize what is needed and how they can best do what is being asked of them,” he said.
While social studies may seem like history to some people, Fosse stretches it to include other topics such as economics. For example, he asked students to name natural resources found in Bears Ears National Monument other than fossil fuels or uranium.
“When you realize what resources are valuable, then you can understand issues and look at solutions. Then, we can take it one step farther to make real-world connections,” he said.
Fosse also sits on the school’s positive behavioral system committee and is Union’s home and hospital coordinator.
He credits many others who encourage him with his teaching.
“If I go back throughout my career, I have many people to thank — my English teacher inspired me; my dad, who was a teacher, backed me; and my wife, who is my best friend; and my kids support me,” he said. “One of the best things about Canyons is they recognize so many educators who are truly great and work hard. The support and acknowledgment they give teachers is amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better school district.”
Fosse was selected from a pool of 48 teachers, each teacher representing Canyons’ schools, including Canyons Virtual High, alternative high school Diamond Ridge and the academy at the Utah State Prison.
Two other finalists in this year’s selection process were East Sandy Elementary teacher Stephanie Cobabe and Brighton High physics teacher Janice Spencer-Wise. Cobabe received $750 and Spencer-Wise received $500.
Cobabe thanked the foundation and board for recognizing teachers’ efforts. “Each Teacher of the Year recipient represents more than 1,100 talented and hardworking teachers who come to work every day in hopes of being his or her best self and to inspire kids to do their best while feeling safe and loved in their educational environment.”