Mike Koegle’s office cubicle is decorated with models of a human brain, various animal skulls, books and a goomba plush from the Super Mario Bros. video game. Every time he explains a scientific concept or pulls up a photo of his students eagerly running experiments, his eyes light up with pride and he gets increasingly animated.
“Science for all. That’s always been my philosophy,” Koegle said.
Koegle, who teaches biology, health and a biotechnology course framed as a murder mystery at Academy of the Canyons (AOC), was nominated for the 2018-19 national LifeChanger of the Year award by AOC Campus Supervisor Kane Crawford, and by an anonymous student, due to his passion and dedication toward teaching and his students.
The LifeChanger of the Year award is sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, which donates up to $2 million a year to nonprofit and educational organizations. The award is given to a K-12 teacher or school district employee who is considered to have made a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.
Each year, hundreds of teachers from across the country are nominated for the award. Winners are chosen by a committee of educators and previous winners based on their ability to:
- Make a positive impact in the lives of students
- Enhance their school or district’s atmosphere, culture and pride
- Demonstrate exemplary leadership at the school and/or district level
- Possess a proven record of professional excellence
- Show commitment to building a nurturing environment that supports learning
- Adhere to the highest moral and ethical standards
This year 17 teachers will be honored with prizes and awards, each with cash prizes and donations to their schools of varying amounts.
Though he has not known Koegle for long, Crawford said the teacher had an instant impact on the freshmen he has worked with. Crawford said Koegle was “just so passionate and just lit these kids up, which I have so much respect for, because I was a student who fell through the cracks. I could have nominated any one of the amazing teachers here, but every time I talk to Mr. Koegle he inspires me to be better when I interact with these kids and be more present with them.”
Koegle said his passion for biological science stemmed from his fascination with the brain and he decided to become a teacher in elementary school after a teacher spent time individually helping him learn how to read. A 15-year teaching veteran who previously specialized in educating students with special needs, Koegle was recently part of the committee that revamped the William S. Hart Union High School District science curriculum.
“We didn’t do this to get money or to get famous, and it was very daunting at first to write this curriculum,” Koegle said. “But when you write a really sound curriculum and you get a bunch of kids who wouldn’t normally be interested in biology in the hallways talking about the subject, that’s like a mini paycheck.”
Koegle views his job as a teacher as making sure that science is available to everyone. He believes that people need to place more faith in students, because they will rise to the challenge when given more challenging problems to solve. He describes his teaching method as experiential, allowing his students to learn the concepts by doing rather than just by memorizing facts, and he hasn’t given a PowerPoint lecture in two years.
“If I can get my students to hear, see, smell and do science, I can get them to remember these lessons for a lifetime,” Koegle said. “You also have to keep updating the material and keep it relevant to their daily lives. Otherwise, the students won’t want to learn or won’t want to apply that knowledge.”
Koegle said that while he is honored to receive the nomination, it feels “foreign.”
“I’m par for the course here at AOC. I’m one of a team,” Koegle said. “There are 13 other teachers on this campus all doing the same thing, and the only difference between me and the rest of them is that my name happened to be submitted. I’m … just doing what I can to keep up with the other faculty here.”
Others are quick to praise the teacher. In an official statement, his other nominator said, “He cares deeply for each and every one of his students. He is the most humble and sincere instructor I have ever had, and he has become one of the heroes in my life.”