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7 Things about William Van Doren

What inspired you to do this kind of work?

It all started with an opportunity to do youth ministry – and hip hop. When I was in Divinity School, one of my colleagues saw me perform a rap at a school event. She then asked me if I wanted do a hip hop workshop with the youth group at her church. I had never worked with teenagers before, but I jumped at the chance, and it was really fun. They liked what I did, so they asked me to help teach their confirmation class the next year.

Opportunities continued to grow from that, and for the next eight years I served as a youth minster at churches in Massachusetts and then the Bay Area. Working with teenagers just kind of clicked for me – it brings me a lot of joy.

Along the way, I realized that my strong academic skills were another avenue to be of service to young people. I started tutoring and got into SAT test prep. Once I started teaching Math for different test prep companies, then it really all came together. Math was my strongest subject when I was younger, and before I got passionately interested in studying religion, I figured I would have a career in Math. And now I do! One reason I love my work at O’Dowd is that all of these things I love get to express themselves – faith, youth ministry, teaching, math, and even hip hop. It’s very inspiring to me.

What is your position here and how long have you worked at O’Dowd?

I started in 2014. Currently I teach Geometry and Finite Math.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received (generally – it doesn’t have to be related to O’Dowd)?

I had a friend and spiritual mentor who helped me to see that anything you do can be a form of ministry if you approach it with that intention. At the time I was feeling confused about my vocation; I went to Divinity School because I felt called to study theology, and the most logical next step as a career was to become an ordained minister at a parish. I was having a lot of inner conflict and confusion about that, though – it felt like what I was “supposed to do,” but I didn’t feel the call. My friend helped me to let go of the “supposed to” that was really hanging over me and be open to whatever God was calling me to next, which turned out to be teaching. That was very liberating.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Seeing young people blossom into amazing young adults. I really love the students I work with. I get to witness so much growth in them, not just academically but personally. They inspire me, challenge me, make me laugh, and teach me at least as much as I teach them. To see a young person grow is to watch a miracle unfold.

What about your field or position do you think would surprise people the most?

I like to say that I don’t teach Math, I teach teenagers. In my view, good teaching is fundamentally relational. The subject matter, while important, is just one layer of what’s happening; on a deeper level, every little decision I make about how to respond to a student, what tone to take in a situation, how I carry myself even if I’m not in the best mood, all of it communicates itself and can either build or compromise the trust and respect that forms the teacher-student relationship. If those relationships are strong, students are much more likely to be receptive to the material and the teaching. And it also communicates deeper life lessons – modeling kindness, respect, hard work, growth mindset, all of those things we hope to instill in our students. Teachers make hundreds or even thousands of those little decisions in a day, which is really the challenge on a personal level, far more than just explaining a math problem clearly or coming up with a good lesson plan.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing about you?

I guess it depends on what context you already know me from, but the fact that I’m a preacher might surprise people. I’ve preached upwards of 100 times from the pulpit in the last 15 years. I love it – preparing and preaching a sermon for me is like entering a prayer that continues for days.

If you could rescue only one thing from your burning office, what would it be?

The art that my wife made for me. Plus a bunch of old poems and rhymes that are scribbled in different notebooks.

Bonus Questions

What is your favorite kind of music/what are your favorite bands?

I LOVE music, so I could go on about this one. But here’s a few: Nas, Jimi Hendrix, Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, Radiohead, Bob Marley.

What is your favorite sports team or who is your favorite individual athlete?

I’m majorly into the Warriors and basketball in general.


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