Magazine has Derksen up for teacher of the year

Online voting for KDSS shop teacher

By Josh Howald

Canadian Family magazine has made Bryan Derksen one of 12 finalists for its 8th annual Teacher Awards.

An online vote will determine if the Kincardine District Secondary School shop teacher will be one of three winners, and receive $3,000 for the program.



Bryan Derksen is one of 12 finalists for Canadian Family magazine's 8th annual teaching awards. If Derksen finishes in the top-3 in online voting, the KDSS shop will get a $3,000 boost. (Josh Howald photo)



Derksen, who has been teaching at KDSS since 1991, is taking it all in stride, if perhaps a bit embarrassed by the attention.


"I just do what I do," he said Friday afternoon. "This building is full of good people who are equally deserving of recognition. It is kind of nice, but I would be just as happy without the attention."


Kincardine's Charlene Wilson wrote a letter nominating Derksen for the contest. Her son Sam was a student of Derksen's, and did a co-op program with him as well before beginning a co-operative education program at Rowe Motors in Kincardine. Wilson's nomination letter can be read at


 "There are certain people you end up connecting with," said Derksen. "Especially in a setting like a shop, which is kind of unique. Certain people fit in, and blossom in that environment, and Sam is one of those people."


So is Derksen.


"I have my basic qualifications in auto mechanics, and I have tried to develop the program here (at KDSS)," he said, "and I have always been a bit of a backyard mechanic."


However, when he first began teaching, auto mechanics was not his specialty. His classes focused on woodworking, until former KDSS shop teacher Paul Douglas took him aside about five years into his career. He told Derksen he would be teaching Grade 11 construction the following year. Derksen didn't want the gig.


"(Douglas) told me if I didn't do different things every now and again as a teacher, I would stagnate," explained Derksen.


"He taught me that you need to develop, and your enthusiasm will come from developing as a teacher, as opposed to trying to perfect the perfect course. He gave me the opportunity to shadow his construction course, and I did it the next year. It evolved into another passion of mine. I wanted to be good at it when I taught it, but you can't - you get good at it while you do it."


Now, he teaches courses in custom furniture, vehicle ownerships, woodworking, carpentry, residential framing, furniture, small engine repair, mechanics and a metal fabrication course.


"Early on, I don't think it was an incorrect focus, but perhaps a disproportionate focus on the subject," said Derksen.


"I was trying to turn out 20 mini-craftsmen, and I needed to give my head a shake. Douglas helped me, as did my faith community (at Harbour Church), to recognize the person is the value. It's about making connections first, and just enjoying the students as fun, interesting people. Then, they have a better attitude, attendance is better and they are more teachable. It took a long time, and that connection doesn't always work out, but you don't develop a relationship with them because of what you teach them."


Derksen could teach a little more efficiently with an ironworker machine. That is what he would put any prize money towards for the KDSS shop. It's a stationary machine that shears, bends and folds metal and mild steel. The KDSS shop, originally designed as a multi-purpose shop, can be a frustrating place to work sometimes. Some of the teaching aids in the current shop were actually developed by Sam Wilson, who completely disassembled and rebuilt a donated vehicle under Derksen's supervision.


"By all accounts, he is doing very well (at Rowe Motors), and that's the great thing. We are pretty tight. But sometimes we (as teachers) don't get to see the end results for years. Maybe we don't find out how somebody turns out until we see them 10 years later on the street. All we're doing is planting seeds here."


As of Monday morning, Derksen had garnered 878 votes, which accounted for seven per cent of all votes. The leader was Rachel Bemrose of Peterborough CVI, who had 19 per cent of the vote with 2,246. You can vote for Derksen online at