Where was Chad Warnick the day after being named 2023 Utah Teacher of the Year during a banquet at a Salt Lake hotel?
Driving around Delta in his pickup truck collecting soil samples for his agricultural students to analyze.
It’s all in the day’s work for the agriculture, biology, leadership and communications teacher, now in his 17th year of teaching in the Millard School District.
“It was unexpected, just overwhelming,” Warnick said of the honor, explaining that he prefers working with students to being singled out for accolades.
At the same time, he appreciates that “it’s a big honor. I’m by no means the best teacher in Utah. But it’s an honor to be able to represent teachers and specifically for an opportunity to represent ag teachers because it’s an amazing group of people that I’m able to interact with throughout the year from across the state,” he said.
Warnick was in elementary school when he was first introduced to the concept of teacher of the year. That’s because in 1990, his father, Waldo Warnick Jr., was selected Utah Teacher of the Year. Waldo Warnick taught industrial arts at Delta High School.
“I didn’t really know what it meant, but I knew it was a big deal,” he said. His father’s award was in a cabinet in their home. Chad Warnick understood “that not everyone got one so that makes it kind of cool.”
Waldo Warnick Jr. was in the audience when his son was honored late last week. He said it was moving to see his son’s hard work and dedication to teaching honored statewide.
When the program moved to the point of announcing the runners-up and Teacher of the Year, the elder Warnick said he thought about all of the educators who had been singled out as finalists.
“It’s a real honor being in the top five. Then they announced his name. I just, I think I had a smile of, ‘Way to go Chad, You deserve it,’” the elder Warnick said.
The family wept tears of joy when Warnick’s name was announced, as did the school administrators who had accompanied them to Salt Lake City. Chad Warnick’s wife, Traci, is an agriculture educator in the Tintic School District. The couple has four children between them, two high schoolers and 7-year-old twins.
Chad Warnick, who teaches at Delta Technology Center and is a Utah State University alum, said the moment was “a blur.” He had “tunnel vision” as he made his way to the front of the banquet room to accept his award, which included a check for $10,000.
As Utah’s Teacher of the Year, Warnick will compete nationally with teachers of the year from other states. He will also participate in a number of state and national leadership opportunities.
Selected as runners-up and awarded $4,000 each were Ogden Preparatory Academy charter school eighth grade science teacher Teresa Hislop and Nebo School District second grade teacher Tracy Warenski, who teaches at East Meadows Elementary School in Spanish Fork.
Warnick, the school’s FFA (Future Farmers of America) adviser, is among a select few teachers from rural Utah to be honored as teacher of the year over the years. He and his father occupy a likely smaller universe, technical education teachers bestowed the honor.
Chad Warnick said he hopes that the honor will also shed light on technical education, “what we do, how we do it.”
He also hopes that it will lift up the unique challenges of teaching in rural schools.
“Traveling is a huge issue,” Chad Warnick said. Students who compete in sports or other activities can travel “one, two, three hours to go to a sporting event.”
Travel can encroach on instructional time “so we really have to adapt our classrooms to be able to allow these kids to participate and still be successful,” he said.
Chad Warnick said he hopes that his year as Utah Teacher of the Year will also provide a platform to educate more people about technical education. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of the trades and skills.
Anyone who calls a plumber to their house for repairs soon discovers that it’s a job that pays good wages and provides a valuable service, he said.
“College is great, but there’s a lot of other opportunities and ways for people to find their place in the world,” Chad Warnick said.
Delta Technical Center Principal Brett Callister said Warnick not only teaches content and skills, but he also helps students grow into confident young adults.
“Mr. Warnick not only directs students on a path to a successful career, but more importantly, he guides each student to have a belief in themselves that they can succeed in life,” Callister wrote.
Monica Giffing, agriculture educator at Landmark High School in Spanish Fork, describes Warnick as the type of teacher students talk about for years to come.
“He is not only committed to educating students on the subjects he teaches but he ingrains life skills into their lives that they will use forever. His rapport with his students is unmatched. They, too, enjoy working, learning and playing alongside him,” Giffing said.
One former student, Alyssa Ewell, graduated from Delta High School a decade ago but still relies on Warnick’s guidance.
“The relationships that he builds in the classroom extend far beyond high school, and he often continues to mentor students throughout college,” she said.
Reflecting on his career, Chad Warnick said his teaching practice has evolved as he has learned more about teenagers’ development.
“The No. 1 thing to remember when you’re dealing with kids,” he said, “is that you’re dealing with kids.”