Henrico’s Top Teachers – Charles Futrell

Elko M.S., social studies
Several students wrote to nominate Charles Futrell as a top teacher, citing his skill at developing fun study guides that motivate students to learn and his ability to make classwork relevant to his students' interests.

"He always finds cool ways to help us remember American history," wrote one student.

"He made learning easy for me and a lot of my classmates," said a student who had him for civics – adding that Futrell is "super funny."

"He makes school fun," said another student, "but still teaches kids at the same time. He teaches kids [in] ways other teachers don't, by connecting stuff to stuff kids like." 

A favorite learning project cited by students is one in which they use Google Earth to learn about Native American culture and economic ventures. "It is helping the class," said one student, "because they are working on it hands-on, like a visual study guide."

Futrell, who says that story-telling is a passion of his, is the first to admit that he will stop at nothing when it comes to getting students to learn. "I have no shame," he said. "I created a rap for the Revolutionary War, which I still use to this day. The students laugh and laugh – but sometimes I hear them humming the tune as they are in class."

One of his more rewarding moments as a teacher was the time he hit on a unique way to help his students grasp the concept of an assembly line, and to understand its significance in the growth of the automobile. He went home and searched his attic until he found his Lego building blocks, and brought the blocks to school for illustration.

"I had one group of students making Lego men in an assembly line," he recalled, "while a few others used the rest of the Legos to create their own Lego men. The creations that were made by my non-assembly line students were absolutely hysterical, and they quickly understood why an assembly line was so important."

Another rewarding moment involved a student who was a repeater and who had failed many of his other courses (though not Futrell's). At the end of the year, after he took his SOL test, the student asked to have a word with Futrell.

"He told me," said Futrell, "that he did a good job on the test because every time he would read a question and the answer choices, he could 'hear' me in his head going over the content in the class. That’s the kind of impact I want to have on my students: in a way that allows them to remember what I have taught in my lessons."

His passion for teaching, Futrell said, has roots in his childhood, when he was always mentoring children at his school and church. "If someone needed a big brother, a protector or an advocate," he said, "I helped them out." A youth pastor, noticing his influence on the other teenagers at church, helped mentor him and develop his teaching talent. Futrell's ninth-grade English teacher also saw his potential and pushed him to complete advanced English and literature coursework.

Probably his biggest challenge as a teacher, says Futrell, is staying on task. He loves getting into discussions with his students, whether about the subject matter or about life in general, and finds it easy to get off-topic when his students are engaged in a discussion and asking lots of follow-up questions.

His students, who call Futrell "a great role model," find that quality endearing and say that his lessons help them learn "everything you need to know to help you in life."

"He has made me believe," said another student, "that you're never too old to have a dream."

To hear Revolutionary Rap, visit http://youtube.com/watch?v=BIYpD2ZD-Jc.
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