‘A bright spot in my day’ – Downers Grove North teacher puts students at the forefront

Downers Grove North social studies teacher Dennis Rogala teaches a freshman class at the school. Rogala recently received his National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

When one thinks of teachers, the vision of an educator lecturing to students may come to mind. But some educators see value in continuing to educate themselves, and Dennis Rogala is one.

A Downers Grove North High School social studies teacher, Rogala recently received his National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The certification follows Rogala’s completion of an intensive, two-year program in which he participated during the COVID-19 pandemic – an added challenge.

Downers Grove North social studies teacher Dennis Rogala teaches a freshman class at the school. Rogala recently received his National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

For Rogala, completing the program during a year when teaching was flipped on its head was tough, but for his remote students, his dedication shined through. Gianna Hunsche, a sophomore at North who aids for Rogala this year and was one of his remote students last year, said even in a remote world Rogala made his students feel valued.

“Last year was really rough for obvious reasons, but his class was a bright spot in my day,” Hunsche said. “He creates a really comfortable environment for us, and I think the fact that he did this, too, and we still felt like a priority shows he’s really willing to put his students at the forefront.”

Downers Grove North social studies teacher Dennis Rogala teaches a freshman class at the school. Rogala recently received his National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards program focuses on four key principles: Content knowledge, differentiation (meaning how to teach students of varying levels at the same time), reflecting on how one teaches and the environment he or she creates, and being a reflective practitioner, which involves considering the broader contributions to society one brings.

Rogala is in his sixth year of teaching and said it was important to him to pursue this certification early in his career. Doing so allowed him to reflect on his approach to education and to adapt his methods for his many teaching years to come, he said.

“Sometimes you have to step back and put yourself in a student’s shoes to reflect on what you look like up there,” Rogala said. “The best teachers aren’t always the ones who know the most stuff, but the ones who make a connection and know that the kids can trust and talk to them.”

Michael Roethler, social studies department chair at Downers Grove North, said he believes Rogala’s biggest strength is his ability to teach students of all levels. Hamza Wasim, a former student of Rogala and a junior at North, agreed and said Rogala “teaches in a way that sticks.”

One example Roethler provided of Rogala’s work is his effort to gear questions toward the student and the level they are at. He said Rogala will assign one topic but provide different assignments to help meet students where they are and make learning achievable.

Downers Grove North social studies teacher Dennis Rogala teaches a freshman class at the school. Rogala recently received his National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

“He really cares about kids of all levels and wants every student to succeed, regardless of their level,” Roethler said. “Completing this process speaks to [Rogala’s] want to always be improving as a teacher, and it’s nice to see him recognized for his hard work and getting that support to build our goals as a district.”

The district has a number of teachers who have completed the National Board certification, and Roethler said he believes that is because the district encourages and supports the growth of its educators. It’s all done in the name of student achievement, Roethler said, and that brings quality to the community.

For the students, that seems to be working, and Wasim said he always felt engaged in Rogala’s classrooms. He said Rogala gives the students real applications of their knowledge and is creative in his assignments, recalling a day when the classroom transformed into a “Price is Right” game show where students competed and learned about unit pricing.

“He just helps kids think about what they’re learning in ways other than seeing it as just a bunch of work,” Wasim said. “He’s continuously giving input and is always making an effort to reach students.”