Top Teachers: Ryan Stein

Pinchbeck E.S., fourth grade
There’s been a revolution at Pinchbeck Elementary. Take a moment and let the fourth-grade parents tell you about it:

“My daughter always complained about going to school until this year,” said one. “Now she can’t wait to go and she is so excited about what she is learning.”

“My child was starting to dread school,” said another, “because the rigor of the SOLs was creating pressure to squeeze so much material into the school day. Mr. [Ryan] Stein has creatively managed to marry fun with learning.”

“[Our child] was struggling, had low self esteem due to low grades, and had little on-on-one attention and guidance from his prior school,” said a third parent. This year he . . . never wants to miss school.”

Even students who were “okay with school” in the BMS [Before Mr. Stein] era have been transformed – into wildly enthusiastic.

“My daughter comes home each day talking about all the things she is doing in class,” said a parent. “She is eager to do homework [or] sing a song about [what she is learning].”

“In a few short weeks,” added another, “Mr. Stein has turned my son around from being a reluctant reader to being an enthusiastic one. My son’s grades have gone up and he can’t wait to get to school.

“I have never seen my child so happy and eager to learn,” wrote one enthused parent. “Mr. Stein is the teacher every parent dreams of having for their child.”

In Ryan Stein’s class, say parents, there is no such thing as rote memorization.

Instead of lecturing about the trials and tribulations of Jamestown, he has students dress up and hold a mock trial, playing the roles of judges and lawyers. He also brings in “mystery readers” from the community and writes songs for the students that teach Virginia history. The students then dress as characters from that period and sing the lyrics to create a “dance video.”

“He is the textbook case for the way teachers should be teaching to prepare their students for the 21st century,” wrote a parent. “In the first nine weeks of school, my son has already composed a PowerPoint book report and a video book, been a lawyer in a mock trial, acted in a rap video and filmed a Claymation animation video. That is some pretty techno-savvy work for fourth graders.

“Mr. Stein truly brings learning to life.”

Outside of class, Stein (pictured with his class on ‘70s day) attends students’ extracurricular activities and conducts voluntary reading groups, allowing students who have read the book to eat lunch with him and discuss it. He also invites students to stay after school and watch movies based on books the class has read. If a student is upset about something, he eats lunch with the child and shares his own growing-up experiences. During recess, when the boys in his class like to play football, he refuses to segregate the class and supervise the girls in a separate activity. Instead, he plays quarterback for the girls’ team and leads them in games with the boys.

An advocate of year-round schools, Stein has created blogs and other tools as a way of extending learning outside the school day. Because instructional time is so limited, he said, it is imperative for students to have a tool that they will “embrace, enjoy using and learn from at home daily, including the weekends.”

Stein, who has provided hundreds of workshops for college students and teachers on integrating 21st-century technology into teaching, said he developed his teaching philosophy by “stealing bits and pieces” from outstanding teachers and administrators he has known.

“But hands down,” he said, “the greatest influence on me [as a teacher] has been my mother. Her passion, determination, work ethic, and enthusiasm for making a difference in the world are highlighted every single day in my classroom. She made me realize that life is about whom we are and what we give rather than what we have.”

This past January, he experienced his most rewarding moment as a teacher when the 100th Virginia school chose to implement History MVP, the educational songs and computer software program he developed for daily instruction.

“My dream of implementing my innovative teaching tools and philosophy by using music and dance to engage, educate, and inspire children in school all throughout Virginia has finally come true,” said Stein.

“I have found my profession to be extremely rewarding, and I am grateful to all my students for enriching my life.” 
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