Veldman wins VFW teacher award

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Ellis Middle School sixth-grade social studies teacher Michael Veldman has won the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.

Former Ellis Middle School principal Jean McDermott, says she nominated Veldman for the award because "he's an exceptional teacher in all he does. He's very child-centered, very organized … he has a very patriotic streak in him. He finds ways to make sixth graders really understand what democracy is."

McDermott remembers Veldman organizing an activity to teach sixth grade students about the freedom of speech earlier this year as an example of his passion for teaching democracy. She says Veldman told the students they could not speak unless they had permission and if they did talk without permission, they were sent to the auditorium where McDermott supervised them.

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McDermott says the lesson made a huge impression on many of the students about what life without democracy is like.

Veldman says his main goal in emphasizing the rights Americans have is to teach them what it means to be a citizen. "I think what happens is that if you can treat them like citizens, if you can treat them as individuals who have rights, you can get respect from them," he says. "If you let them know they have some say in what they do, they have some ability to choose, they'll get a lot more learning done and I get a lot more teaching done."

Veldman says this includes giving them the right to say the Pledge of Allegiance. "I tell them on the first day of class that they fall under the First Amendment, which gives them the freedom of speech and it protects their right to not say the Pledge," he says. "However, I insist they stand for the Pledge because the least they can do is show respect for the flag which represents the Constitution and the amendment that gives them that right."

In the five years he's taught at Ellis, he says, a few students have refrained from saying the Pledge, but no one has ever refused to stand for the flag.

Al Landherr, this year's commander of the VFW, says he's pleased a local teacher has won the award. "I love it," he says. "I work hard all year long for things like this and when somebody wins in my area, I love it."

Amanda L. Rohde can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at