Henrico’s Top Teachers – Emily Stains

Varina H.S., English
Emily Stains' favorite day of elementary school was Take Your Daughter to Work Day. That was when she got to accompany her mother to school, sit quietly in the back of the classroom, and watch her mom teach.

"I was absolutely in awe of her presence, compassion, and rigor in her classroom," Stains recalled, adding that at home, her mother was always surrounded by books and papers, preparing lessons she taught as an adjunct professor for Penn State.

A high school English teacher, Mr. Oswalt, also influenced Stains. In college, a special professor allowed her to take leadership roles and helped her raise funds to attend national conferences for aspiring English teachers. Today, widely praised and respected as a teacher who "goes the extra mile for her students," Stains clearly has taken her early mentors' lessons to heart.

"She challenges her students in class," wrote a colleague in her nomination, "but also helps them outside of class [with filling out] scholarship applications and getting focused for college." To encourage her students to apply for scholarships, she offers extra credit for every application turned in.

Stains also is heavily involved in the school community, serving as senior class sponsor, AP teacher, and coordinator of a pen pal program for the county. "She is the 'go to' teacher when something needs to be done," wrote a colleague. "Her unselfish attitude sets her apart."

"She doesn't miss a single football game for the Varina Blue Devils," added a nominator. "She is enthusiastic in and out of the classroom."

When students see Stains so involved in activities on campus, say her fellow teachers, "she is the drive for students to get involved. Ms. Stains always has a smile on her face so when students see her, they are excited to learn and excited to come to school because her personality is made of gold." Many students, wrote her colleagues, consider Stains their "school mom."

Stains would be the first to say, however, that mothering her students does not mean coddling them. "I often tell my students that in my room, easy is not an option," said Stains. "We make 'easy' possible through hard work; hard work makes dreams possible."

Among the daily challenges of teaching – which Stains calls a "labor of love" – are helping her students make their education a priority, she said – "instead of an extracurricular activity."

Asked to recall some of her rewarding moments as a teacher, Stains mentioned a student athlete who took her AP course – his first – to strengthen reading and writing skills before he went to college. He spent every study hall in her classroom working through assignments, and today is a successful university student.

She noted that her AP English class, which now includes 91 seniors, consisted of only 13 students in the first year. That year, the day after the May test, she received an e-mail from a mother whose son had struggled with the concepts but persevered; the note thanked Stains for inspiring him to work toward something he had initially believed was impossible.

"She told me," said Stains, "'It’s amazing how one person can change a life,' [and] thanked me for being that person for her son."

Another message Stains cherishes was written by a sophomore who had passed her SOL with an "advanced" rating, and wanted to thank Stains for teaching her not only the content, but how to study and be more engaged in her education. "She told me she never liked English," Stains said, "and couldn’t understand how to read effectively, but [with Stains' help] she read four books in two weeks.”

That student, she added, now sits in her AP English class; and her letter sits in Stains' desk drawer – "for the moments I need encouragement."

A final note that Stains has saved is from a former student who was assigned in another class to create and deliver a speech dedicated to someone who made an impact in their lives.

"Attached was the incredibly beautiful speech," said Stains, "recalling such things as how I read my students Dr. Seuss’s Oh! The Places you Will Go! on the first day of school, to tutoring sessions that lasted over an hour . . to how she majored in elementary education because I inspired her to become a teacher. . .

"She wrote how my passion fueled hers [and] that the times in my class were her 'most joyful' and 'the best parts' of her days. To be honored in this way is such a blessing to reinforce that I am doing exactly what I should be, exactly where I am needed."

Stains summed up that having a community entrust her with its most valuable assets is not a job she takes lightly.

"Teaching is a job for the strong-willed, the innovative, and the brave because no two days, no two classes, are ever the same," she said. "I hope I inspire my students to aspire for excellence in all that they do -- and remember to reinvest in their community for the next generation."
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