Utah’s new Teacher of the Year instills grit, confidence that lasts long after graduation

Chad Warnick, a teacher at Delta Technical Center in Millard School District, says hands-on instruction is the best way to help students reach their potential.

(Courtesy of Chad Warnick) Chad Warnick teaches a student how to trim a goat's hoof. Warnick, a teacher at Delta Technical Center, is Utah's newest Teacher of the Year.

Chad Warnick’s freshman year was lonely, he remembers, as he struggled to adjust to high school and make friends.

But joining activities organized by youth groups focused on agriculture, like Future Farmers of America and 4-H, pushed him outside his comfort zone and gave him new self confidence.

When it came time for college, he told a student advisor at Utah State University he wanted to help teenagers like himself by becoming a 4-H leader.

“You will [help young people],” Warnick remembers the advisor saying. “But if you really want to do that, you’ll do more of it as a teacher.” Warnick worked with the advisor to create a degree plan to become an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor.

“I never looked back,” Warnick said.

After 17 years of teaching at Delta Technical Center, Warnick was named Utah’s newest Teacher of the Year last week. Winning the award was “overwhelming,” he said.

“You know you still have your own imperfections, and that’s hard to see, but you [also] know other people see what you’re doing,” Warnick said.

While Warnick appreciates the recognition, he said he considers the award a reflection of the progress the technical center has made in the nearly two decades he has taught there.

As Warnick finished up his degree in Logan, his wife and fellow agriculture student Traci Warnick applied for a position at the technical center vacated by a retiring teacher. After the first year, the Warnicks were expecting a child, and Traci chose to stay home to raise their family.

He applied for her position and has taught animal sciences, biology and communication courses at the extension to his alma mater, Delta High School, ever since. Students there and at Millard High School earn credit toward graduation at the center, while adults can join them in some classes or can take college classes from USU.

Warnick remembers feeling nervous the first year when administrators informed him he would be teaching a class on floral design. “I don’t know how to do it,” he said. “Well, you better learn,’” they replied.

Partway through his first animal sciences class, a frustrated young man exclaimed, “Are we ever going to do anything with animals?” It was a good point, Warnick thought. He wondered how his father, who was a wood shop teacher in Delta, would approach the subject.

The next week, Warnick met with his students at Millard School District property to start drawing up plans for a school farm. They eventually presented their plan to the school board, which quickly approved the idea. Now, there is a barn for goats, pigs and cattle at the center.

(Courtesy of Chad Warnick) Chad Warnick helps students during a floral design class at Delta Technical Center. Warnick was named Utah's 2023 Teacher of the Year on Thursday.

Since that frustrated student’s complaint, Warnick said, he has driven himself to teach using hands-on methods. It’s the best way to instill what he views as the most important attributes a young person can have — self-confidence and grit — in his students, no matter what they are interested in, he said.

“I’m not the natural, dynamic individual, but I am, I think, the person who’s aware of students and their potential,” Warnick said. “I can help them find their niche.”

The center just finished building its second greenhouse and is in the process of starting an orchard. Warnick’s students regularly conduct experiments with the livestock and crops and sell them to local businesses and at livestock trades. Some former students have told Warnick that they used his floral design class to make their wedding bouquet.

Warnick’s vision for the center would never have reached fruition without the support of Delta residents and school administrators, he said. It is something that he thinks, perhaps, could only happen in a small town.

“Ten years after graduation, I continue to rely on Mr. Warnick for advice and guidance and I know there are many other former students to do the same,” wrote former student Alyssa Ewell, who is now chief executive officer and chief financial officer of Ewell Education Services. “The relationships that he builds in the classroom extend far beyond high school and he often continues to mentor students throughout college.”

A second generation of Delta residents has started to file into Warnick’s classes, a prospect that he finds to be “amazing.”

A committee with representatives from parent and teacher advocacy organizations, charter schools and the Utah State Board of Education selected Warnick as teacher of the year, according to a news release by the board.

He was presented with a check for $10,000 and will compete with his state fellow teachers of the year in a national competition.

“Mr. Warnick is the kind of teacher that students will be talking about for years to come,” wrote Landmark High School agricultural educator Monica D. Giffing. “He is not only committed to educating students on the subjects he teaches but he engrains 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.”

Ogden Preparatory Academy charter school eighth grade science teacher Teresa Hislop and East Meadows Elementary School (Nebo School District) second grade teacher Tracy Warenski were named runners up and each received $4,000.

Last year’s teacher of the year was Mark Berrett Daniels, a theater teacher at Weber High School in Pleasant View.