The student news site of Arvada West High School

The Westwind

The student news site of Arvada West High School

The Westwind

The student news site of Arvada West High School

The Westwind

From boot camp to the classroom:

Joseph van Wijngaarden, teacher at Arvada West High School, shares his journey of being a marine and becoming a teacher.

Everyone at Arvada West High School goes to history class, whether it be their favorite subject, or something they want nothing to do with. Surprisingly, history teacher Joseph van Wijngaarden was the latter. 

“Even as a high school student myself, I hated going to history class. The way I was taught history growing up was you just needed to memorize these facts, with little to no focus on why they’re important,” van Wijngaarden says. 

History teachers don’t usually have a career in the military; but van Wijngaarden,  is an exception. A marine in the military, one of van Wijngaarden’s jobs was to operate a $3.5 million vehicle. That’s definitely a step up from driving an automatic car.

Most of society has immense respect for those serving in the military,  being willing to sacrifice for the sake of their country. This duty can be seen as very challenging and leaves people wondering why they may have joined.

“The challenge and prestige of the Marine Corps interested me. The boot camp is the longest and the most challenging out of all the other branches when talking about enlisted people. So, it was a way for me to prove to myself that I could do it,” explains van Wijngaarden.

Since individuals who are in leadership positions in the military have such important and multi-faceted duties, it can be stressful and difficult in making sure everything is running smoothly on their end, and that all the soldier’s needs are being met. In van Wijngaarden’s case, operating a multi million dollar tank, while ensuring the safety of his troops, proved challenging.

“What was tough about my job was me realizing just how many people depended on me to do my job. I would never forgive myself if something happened to one of my junior marines, and it was my fault,” van Wijngaarden elaborates.

Although there are difficult parts to every job, there is a best part about every job. For van Wijngaarden’s case, traveling to other countries made him a better history/world geography teacher in general.

“There were a lot of great things that I loved. The first thing that comes to mind is that I was able to go to parts of the world that I never considered myself wanting to go to. Sri Lanka comes to mind. I would like to say it made me a more worldly person,” van Wijngaarden says.

Serving in the military forges extremely close bonds, and it seems as difficult transitioning away from them back to civilian life, regardless of the amount of time served.

According to van Wijngaarden, “It was tough, and weird. Just like leaving the military in general is tough. You’re putting behind this culture of where you always know what you’re supposed to do and where you’re supposed to be. Then, you transfer into civilian life where you are much more free to do what you want.”

But, like any other job, there are major pros, whether that be the enjoyment of watching kids enjoy a prepared lesson, or with the junior marines after instructing them on the duties of their jobs. Leaving the military to enter the classroom hasn’t left van Wijngaarden without exceptional abilities. For example, van Wijngaarden thinks that traveling the world and learning about the different cultures that other countries bring to the table has made him a better history teacher.

“Whenever I see a student that comes to a conclusion that they can prove with the information that I’ve given them, it inspires me because I’ve just given them an opportunity to learn,” van Wijngaarden proclaimed. 

“Teaching is a two way street and I’ve learned so much from my students. It’s so inspiring to hear about all the things that my students want to accomplish in life. I love getting to know my students and what makes them who they are.”

Through Arvada West High School, it is certainly interesting to see the different cultures, ideas and passions that students share. According to van Wijngaarden, even with some of the difficulties that come with the job, it is exciting to see what students bring to the table.

“Teaching is a very difficult yet very rewarding career. I love working with my students to guide them to an answer, rather than just giving them one. I see history as a great subject for this because it’s open for interpretation” van Wijngaarden remarks.

Not only does van Wijngaarden enjoy the teaching component of his career, but he also enjoys connecting with kids outside of the classroom in an entertaining and relatable way.

“My favorite memory of being a teacher up until this point was when I was duct-taped to a pole in the commons last year. I might even be getting my head shaved this year.”

Blending his military experience with the love of the classroom, van Wjingaarden says, “So far, my favorite thing to teach has been US History and US History through film. I am even hoping to make and introduce a class on Military History, which would be very exciting and fun to teach.”

Arvada West High School’s halls are filled with people from contrasting backgrounds. There’s much to be learned from each other, especially in the classroom from van Wijngaarden, a hero in the hallways.






Leave a Comment
About the Contributor

Comments (0)

All The Westwind Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *