A longtime Columbus North High School math teacher has received numerous awards throughout his career, but says his most recent one is particularly special.
Dale Nowlin was honored by the Bull Dog Alumni Association as its Outstanding Teacher of the Year from a field of 23 nominated educators.
North students had the option of nominating teachers online this year, providing an explanation of why the nominee was outstanding and providing examples.
An association committee then made the final selection for the award, which comes with a $1,000 stipend.
Nowlin, 63, has been with the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. since 1985 and has taught for the past 20 years at North. He serves as math department chair at North and Northside Middle School.
Nowlin has earned several teaching awards during his career, including the presidential award for excellence in science and mathematics teaching in 1992 that came with a $7,500 grant from the National Science Foundation. However, he said the latest award from the Bull Dog Alumni Association stands out for him since it was a nomination that came from students.
“When your efforts are recognized by students, that means more to me,” he said.
The Valparaiso native said what he enjoys most about being an educator is working with students and interacting with them in the classroom. But teaching math wasn’t something that Nowlin set out to do, joking that among the items on his checklist in picking a college was selecting one that had no math requirement.
However, as a psychology major, he was required to take finite math and statistics, he said. Nowlin said he was encouraged by one of his professors to take more math courses and eventually graduated with a double major in psychology and math from Alma College.
He had planned to teach for a few years before becoming a counselor or working in the statistics field, but soon discovered that he enjoyed being a teacher.
“As I got into it, I found out that it was my passion,” Nowlin said.
In addition to teaching at North, Nowlin is the 12th grade teacher representative on the National Assessment Governing Board, where he is serving his second term.
The governing board works on testing and policy that leads to creating a national report about education in the United States. The panel oversees assessments for The Nation’s Report Card, a nationwide evaluation of the progress of education.
He takes a growth mindset to teaching math compared to a fixed mindset, which he said is commonly associated with someone saying they’re not able to do math.
“A growth mindset is where you say, ‘I can’t do this yet, but I can learn how to do it,’” Nowlin said.
He also credited the 14 math teachers at North who contribute to the department’s success, saying that collaboration plays an important role. “I learn as much from watching them,” he said.
Much of his work in the classroom is meant to help students learn about math with the expectation that they won’t get graded all the time, he said.
“Most learning takes place when you make mistakes,” Nowlin said.
David Clark, North’s principal, who serves on the association’s board of directors, said Nowlin’s strong interest in helping students succeed is just one quality that made him a good fit for the award. The board of directors began recognizing teachers at Columbus North during the 2015-16 school year.
“We’re blessed to have him,” he said.
Clark also said he considers Nowlin’s overall expectations to be tough, something that students learn to manage well.
“They respond positively to that rigor,” Clark said. “It helps them believe in themselves.”
While Nowlin plans to step away permanently from the classroom in the next few years, his love of working with students is something Nowlin wants to continue in the meantime.
“I still enjoy it too much to retire,” Nowlin said.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Alma College in math and psychology, master’s degree from Michigan State University in math and statistics
Family: Married to wife Isabel; they have three children, Elisabeth, Joel and Matthew
Teaching career: Taught in Newport News, Virginia, and La Porte, Indiana, before coming to work for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., where he has worked since 1985. He has been at Columbus North since 1997.
The Bull Dog Alumni Association awarded three scholarships at the Spring Awards Convocation at Columbus North on May 19. The recipients were:
- Katherine Stewart: Samuel P. Simmermaker Journalism & Communications Scholarship for $1,000
- Brittany Davis: John Johnson Studio Productions Scholarship for $1,000
- Luis Lopez: Michael P. Garber Memorial Scholarship for $500