History teacher grew up on hill

Mike Van Zee is the new middle school history teacher at Idyllwild School. Photo by JP Crumrine

Six members of the Idyllwild School’s staff are former Idyllwild School students. Mike Van Zee is the latest to return to his educational roots. The new seventh and eighth grade history teacher has been an outstanding third grade teacher at Bautista Creek School in Hemet for the past 22 years.
“I’m excited to be in Idyllwild,” Van Zee said. “I really enjoyed my position [at Bautista Creek], but Idyllwild was the only place left for me and especially this position.”
Van Zee grew up in Idyllwild. He attended kindergarten through seventh grade at Idyllwild School. His family did move away for one year, but returned.
Van Zee and his wife, Shana, are both teachers. She is an elementary teacher at Bautista Creek. They have two grown children and the entire family proudly admits that they are all Hemet High School (HHS) graduates.
After graduating from HHS, Van Zee attended and graduated from California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). Shana did too, but they are neither high school nor college sweethearts. They did not meet until several years after he graduated from CSUSB.
History was his favorite subject and several members of the history faculty served as good mentors. This is what attracted him to becoming an educator.
Before attaining his goal of a history teacher, he was an elementary teacher for more than 20 years.
“Before, I knew what to teach and when to teach it. This will be a lot harder. It’s new territory, but I love history,” Van Zee said comparing elementary to middle school curriculum and planning.
In preparation for U.S. History, the eighth grade focus, the Van Zees spent time in New England this summer, particularly Boston. His view of U.S. history will be very comprehensive. He plans to weave the hill into the lessons.
Van Zee expects students will also have time devoted to learning some Idyllwild history.
“I think it is important from a personal perspective since they are living here,” he said.
As an example of Van Zee’s knowledge of Idyllwild history, he quoted John Muir. “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!” Van Zee added that this was before Muir visited Yosemite Valley.
While there is frequent debate in educational academia and with parents about teaching to the test, he noted that is not an issue for middle school history. There is no statewide history test.
Van Zee knows the standards expected for seventh and eighth grade history and will use those for his guidelines.
Besides academics, he expects to help with the upcoming 5K/10K Run Walk. During the school year, he will assist with the Associated Student Body.
“I’m very excited to be back and I look forward to being part of the community,” he said. While he will still be commuting from Hemet, they have a home in Idyllwild and expect to be full-time residents within a couple of years.