Alumnus Named Michigan Educator of the Year

portrait of a man wearing a black poloA College of Arts & Letters alumnus is Michigan’s 2016 Educator of the Year. 

Dan Carr, who has a B.A. in Spanish ’96 and an M.A. in Education ‘02, both from MSU, was one of more than 500 educators from across the state nominated during the 2015-2016 school year for the Michigan Lottery’s Excellence in Education Educator of the Week awards. Among the 34 chosen to receive the weekly honor, Carr later was selected by the Michigan Lottery for the top prize.

“This is all very humbling. It’s not something I expected or that motivated me to do what I do. I just try to help kids,” Carr said. “As a teacher, you don’t set out to win awards, and we are not out there to become rich. Our goal is to try to make kids better one day at a time.”

Carr, who teaches Spanish and sports marketing at Lansing’s Waverly High School, was nominated for the award by a parent of one of his students for motivating and inspiring her daughter to stay in school.

As a teacher, you don’t set out to win awards, and we are not out there to become rich. Our goal is to try to make kids better one day at a time.

Known for inspiring a love of Spanish and other languages in his students, Carr recently began his 20th year of teaching at Waverly High School. He is such a popular teacher that the school added an upper-level Spanish class because so many students wanted to continue studying the language with him.

“Dan is the most dedicated person and teacher you’ll ever see,” said Waverly High School Principal Chris Huff. “He has a passion for kids and a passion for education. When you go into his classroom, you see all the students engaged in the lesson. He’s a very special teacher and person.”

Teaching Beyond the Classroom

Advisor to Waverly High School’s Spanish Honor Society, Carr’s teaching reaches beyond the classroom. He organizes the school’s annual World Language Night, a variety show dedicated to celebrating the many languages that are taught and spoken at the school, the diversity of the student body, and impact made by students on the global community. He also encourages students to do volunteer work and each year offers a field trip to World Medical Relief in Detroit to help sort medical supplies going to third-world countries.

man in baseball cap surrounded by children high fiving child in kenya

Last year, Carr brought in more than 60 guest speakers to talk to his classes, and he uses his own real-world experiences and lessons from his international travels to help teach and inspire students.

Carr has made numerous mission trips abroad, traveling to more than 40 different countries including every Spanish-speaking country in the world, except for Equatorial Guinea. Whenever he travels to a new country, he brings back information about the country and its culture to his students.

I hope that it inspires students to take risks in life.

“That was one of the reasons I visit all these places because I want to be able to share what it’s like firsthand,” Carr said. “I hope that it inspires students to take risks in life, especially culturally and in terms of travel, to step outside their comfort zone, to interact with a wide variety of people in their community and in the world, and hopefully to be able to travel and see the world.”

The MSU Impact

When Carr first came to MSU, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. His sophomore year, the undeclared major took a basketball coaching class taught by legendary MSU Men’s Basketball Coach George “Jud” Heathcote, which set the course for his career.

“I fell in love with it. Just the fact that I was learning from this guy who is one of the best in the world at what he does, it really influenced me a lot,” Carr said.

Even though he never played organized basketball beyond third grade, Heathcote encouraged Carr to “get into coaching” and gave him the phone number of the Waverly varsity coach, who asked him to be a volunteer assistant coach with Waverly’s 8th grade B team. That was in 1993 when Carr was 19 years old. The next year, he moved up to helping at the high school.

“That is where it all started,” Carr said. “It is what led me to Waverly, and I have been there ever since.”

man with brown hair posing with man with white hair

Carr also credits his Spanish professors, Nancy Marino and Mary Vasquez, with having a big influence on him.

“They gave me an opportunity to live abroad and encouraged me to take that opportunity to become bilingual,” said Carr, who studied abroad in Spain with Vasquez between his junior and senior years. “They gave me more than just knowledge. They invested in me personally. They got to know me as an individual and discovered my interests and abilities, and with that, provided me with opportunities to grow into the potential they saw in me. They really went above and beyond to help me carve out my niche in life and find an identity for myself." 

Whatever I have become, I owe so much of it to MSU.

Carr went on to do his observation hours and student teaching at Waverly, which led him to the head coaching job with the freshman team. Then when he was done student teaching, the Spanish teacher who preceded him retired. That opened the door for him to start teaching full time in 1996.

“Whatever I have become, I owe so much of it to MSU,” Carr said. “I came here and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I didn’t know my potential. It allowed me to realize things that I didn’t see for myself.”

A Career Rewarded

man accepting award from tom izzoMSU Men’s Basketball Coach Tom Izzo presented Carr with the Educator of the Year award and a $10,000 check during an assembly at Waverly High School.

Carr said he plans to use the money to “help further education in the parts of the world where people aren’t as privileged and don’t have as much opportunity and as many resources as we do. To be able to provide something for them is very near and dear to my heart.”

The Michigan Lottery established the Excellence in Education awards in 2014 to recognize outstanding educators from across the state for their contributions to public education.