Winning the 2005 Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year award was a complete surprise to Jackson Township Elementary fifth grade teacher Dan Webster. He didn't even know Principal Jeff Fritz had entered him in the competition.
"I didn't have a clue until he told me I'd won," Webster said. "I'm really humbled and honored by this."
Principal Jeff Fritz felt that Webster was the perfect person to enter in the contest.
"Dan's an excellent male role model for students, which is definitely lacking at the elementary level," Fritz said at the awards ceremony on Wednesday. "We're proud to have him on staff here."
Webster didn't start out as a teacher. After the closure of his employer, IBM in Greencastle, he was forced to make a different career choice.
"I had always liked teaching, so I went back to school," he said. "It was the best move I ever made. It's been nothing but a wonderful experience being a teacher here at Jackson Township Elementary."
Since 1989, the challenges of trying to reach a new group of students each year has only gotten more intriguing. While many people dread their jobs, Webster looks forward to each day he spends with his students.
"The kids are so fun to be around. Watching a student blossom through the school year, seeing them reach their full potential is a blessing," Webster said of his 33 students.
"I believe it is my responsibility to teach good citizenship, to be a role model they can look up to," he said. "There's other jobs where you can touch lives, but teaching allows you to watch it as it happens."
Coming from all types of backgrounds, some students are in tough situations and need a safe place where they can grow into responsible citizens. This is the hardest part of being a teacher for Webster, not being able to control some factors in troubled students' lives, but each student in his class is valuable and worthy of respect.
"When they are shown respect in the classroom, sometimes for the first time in their lives, they understand why it is important for others when they are in public," he said.
Patriotism is also very important to Webster, who stresses social studies projects within the classroom like his historical wax museum program. It is one of the most anticipated spring projects for fifth-graders, who become costume-clad living statues of historical figures to teach younger students about history.
"It is my job to instill in students the importance of the sacrifices soldiers have made. Sacrifices which allow them the personal freedoms that they have and enjoy in this nation, which is like no other," he said. "We give veterans one day a year to remember all that they have done for us, when they deserve so much more. They are so easily forgotten, especially by our children. Winning this award from a veterans group means so much to me."