Teachers are vital to shaping the future as they educate young minds every day. While many look out for the best interests of their students, others go above and beyond as educators to provide a learning environment that is positive for their students. For this, the VFW selected Underwood band director TJ Pelanek to be the recipient of the Smart/Maher VFW Citizenship Education Teacher Award.
Pelanek won the award at the local and district levels, and would win the state award.
“I believe this award is a reflection of the amazing amount of support I receive from the school and community,” Pelanek said. “I was nominated through the school for bringing in Americanism and patriotism into the classroom and most of that is working with the community. Most importantly, this award means that I have the best and most hardworking students. If it wasn’t for their trust and commitment to the program, I wouldn’t be accepting this award right now.”
Each year, the VFW selects a teacher from elementary, middle and high school to receive the award. Established in 1999, the award recognizes the nation’s top teachers for their exceptional commitment to teaching Americanism and patriotism to their students by promoting civic responsibility, flag etiquette and patriotism in the classroom.
“TJ Pelanek is very deserving of this award,” Underwood principal John Hamann said. “He takes great pride in his music students, their education, their performances and does so much for our school and community. There is not a more deserving teacher in the area to be named.”
When discussing why he got into teaching, Pelanek mentioned that his high school band teacher, Sue Halloway was a big influence. “She did more than just have us play our instruments. She had an incredible way of speaking to each student and was shaping us to become better people. I’ve always wanted to be able to guide students the way that she did.”
Pelanek would carry this into his teaching as he works with his students. Although he teaches music, Pelanek stated that developing positive relationships with students, creating a sense of trust, is the most important aspect of being a teacher. By creating trust, students feel safe and are comfortable in their environment, allowing them to learn better, take risks and be creative.
Pelanek has seen growth in his teaching as he continues to hone his craft in education. “I listen more and have tried to be ‘real’ with my kids. I make mistakes everyday and I let my students know that that’s OK. Learning from those mistakes is important. I believe they respond better when they know I’m human too.
Pelanek’s nomination will now move on to the national level. If the band director should win, he believes that it showcases the school and city he works in.
“I’m extremely lucky to have won the state award so winning at the national level would only prove that the city of Underwood truly deserves this award. It has literally taken a village to be nominated for this award,” Pelanek said.