Henrico’s Top Teachers – Taylor Snow

Asked to imagine a place where they can escape from the stresses of daily life, few people would suggest a middle school classroom.

Count Taylor Snow as one of those few.

His toughest challenges as a middle school teacher, says Snow, are only rarely student-related. “In fact, the time I spend with my students is a real sanctuary,” he says, “from the sometimes overwhelming central office paperwork and data collection required of us.” And when it comes to his students – many of whom face difficult issues in their home lives -- Snow hopes that the classroom is a refuge as well.

“The reason I teach,” says Snow, “is that I believe that the classroom should be a sanctuary from [the challenges of daily life].

“The students are the ones that make my classes what they are with their varied abilities and talents,” adds Snow. “All I do is try to provide them a forum where they can grow and use those abilities and talents.”

A student who wrote to nominate Snow noted that the teacher cultivates the atmosphere of an open forum in the classroom by telling his students at the outset of the school year that he will teach not only world history, but also arts, literature, the sciences, and most importantly, current events.

“Instead of lectures and static Powerpoints, Mr. Snow encourages class conversations and extracurricular activities,” said the student. “He always lets us state our beliefs, and we can truly be who we are in his class.”

The student added that in addition to supporting a Model UN program for Moody students – and signing them up for competition with high school delegates “because he firmly believes we are just as good” – Snow has formed an international studies course that is primarily student-directed. The international studies group, which includes members of every social group at school, explores current events and requires students to present both sides of every argument. As a result, many formerly-reserved students have become more confident about sharing their ideas.

“To have an adult treat us like equals, and teach us to always do the impossible, has inspired the whole class,” wrote the student. “I want to become a UN ambassador because of [Snow].”

The son of a high school English teacher who taught for more than 30 years in Pulaski County, Snow credits both his mother’s example and his reading of Jonathan Kozol’s book Savage Inequalities (about inequality in public education) for inspiring him to teach.

He also treasures his second-grade memories of being allowed to visit the classroom “Reading Barrel” when he finished his work early, and credits those visits with kindling the love of reading for pleasure that he tries to share with his students daily.

Snow says that his most rewarding moments are those in which he sees students becoming empowered as learners – moments “when they learn not for the sake of passing a test or improving a grade, but simply by becoming someone who loves to learn for learning’s sake.”

With so much time and effort focused on test results, data and the achievement of certain benchmarks, says Snow, “we forget that what matters the most is helping foster a love of knowledge that helps create a lifelong learner.”

A recent email from a former student illustrated the kind of impact that Snow enjoys having on students. In his thank-you note, the student recalled that Snow would occasionally play music in class, and the student would go home and look up the artist, then listen on his own. “This led me to my transformed music taste,” said the student, “which is surprisingly how I met most of my current friends: through discussing music!”

The student also thanked Snow for sparking lifelong interests in history and in running. When a classroom announcement was made urging rising ninth graders to look into cross country at Hermitage H.S., he reminded his teacher, “Guess who told me I should go check it out? You! And now, eight running seasons later, I’m still doing it.”

But Snow insists he gets just as much from working with his “creative, enthusiastic, and funny” students as they do from him.

“I never dread going to work in the morning or returning to school after long breaks,” he says, “because I can say with all honesty that I really do love what I do.”
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