Henrico’s Top Teachers – Tyler Hart

As the son of a teacher who is now a teacher himself, Tyler Hart – it would be natural to assume – had to have been a school-lover and a model student growing up.

Just the opposite, says Hart.

“I was always the student with the ‘X’s in the ‘talkative’ box on my report card,” he recalls. “I was always out of my seat. I was not a fan of school.”

It wasn’t until Hart graduated from University of Richmond and began working at summer camps and an after-school program that teaching really entered his mind. Taking a job as a permanent substitute at Crestview Elementary, where he often floated to different classrooms helping out, he found himself drawn to special ed classrooms in particular and to the task of motivating and engaging children in general.

Before long, he returned to UR to get his teaching degree – and discovered a textbook by Ron Clark that affected him deeply.

“I had read numerous textbooks for college and graduate classes, but I think The Essential 55 was the first book I read that really let me know that I wanted to be a teacher,” says Hart. “I become enamored with [Clark’s] teaching style. I watched the movie, The Ron Clark Story and became even more motivated. This was a guy showing it’s okay to dance around, rap, and stand on desks.

“It really led me to believe that education can be fun.”

This year, Hart was able to fly to Atlanta and visit The Ron Clark Academy to see his idol teach in person -- an experience he says he will never forget, and hopes to experience again.

It’s clear, if you ask Hart’s students and their parents, that he has not only taken Ron Clark’s philosophy to heart, but has also added his own distinctive spirit and stamp.

He has “a very cool and friendly way of teaching,” said one parent. Under his guidance, many children who professed to hate school and who tested poorly on SOLs have not only improved or passed, but learned to love learning.

“Children are captivated by his style [and energy],” said another parent. “His assignments are thought-provoking and exciting [and] he provides just the right amount of scaffolding, allowing the learners to take off on their own when ready.”

In only the first nine weeks of school, one parent noticed a dramatic change in her child’s self-confidence and attitude towards learning, and credited the improvement to Hart’s unique, hands-on way of teaching and inventive lessons.

“[My child] is excited to learn new things and to see what creative ideas he has for the day,” she said, citing activities that range from making continents out of cookie dough to dropping eggs off the school roof.

Another parent wrote that Hart’s hands-on style helped her daughter to open up and to be less shy in public.

“He really gets the students involved in using the blog page,” said the parent, “[and teaches] students how to be responsible by setting up a manager and having them have use ‘fake money’ to pay for a job.”

Using technology in new and innovative ways in the classroom is one of Hart’s passions, he agrees. At the beginning of the school year, he invests a lot of time in step-by-step teaching of different programs; by the end of the year, he says he is “blown away” at seeing what the students develop.

“It is a blast using these resources to enhance my students’ learning,” he says. “One of my favorite things is when former students come to show off projects they have created in programs that they learned how to use with me.”

When he’s had opportunities to make presentations at professional conferences, Hart adds, he enjoys helping his fellow teachers just as much as students – and says they “get just as excited as an eight-year-old when they learn something new.”

The former classroom chatterbox says that he has taken the opposite approach from his own teachers in his third grade classroom.

“I know most of the time [as a student] I was probably not being productive with my ‘chatter,’” says Hart. “But I welcome chatter in my classroom – within reason. I thoroughly enjoy watching the interactions of my students.”

Hart also enjoys meeting the challenge of taking 25 different personalities from very different backgrounds, and helping each to find the best way to learn the material “and have an awesome time doing it,” he says.

Becoming a teacher has given him a new appreciation of his mother, Peggy Hart, who taught in Henrico County for 30 years. “I didn’t realize,” he says, “how much work she put into her class until I was on the other side of the desk.”

But no matter how daunting the challenges, Hart says, they are far outweighed by teaching’s rewards.

He enjoys, for instance, seeing his students’ reactions when he tells them they will have a substitute next day.

“To hear my students genuinely upset that I won’t be in class the next day,” says Hart, “always puts a smile on my face. I also find myself checking the clock when I am out, thinking, ‘Now they are doing math. Time for art! I hope ‘Billy’ is doing what he is supposed to be doing right now.’”

But the best part about teaching, he insists, is that it never gets stale.

“[Teaching] will never be the same year in and year out. Every year I have to mold and hone my craft based on the students I have,” Hart says.

“In the ever-changing world of education I live by one motto: ‘Embrace change, it’s the only constant.’”
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Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will present Flowers After 5 on Thursday evenings through September. Stroll through the gardens and enjoy live music from blues harmonica player and vocalist Bruce Ewan, as well as family activities, wine and beer, dining and shopping. Lawn chairs and blankets are welcome. The Garden partners with the Richmond SPCA on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month for Fidos After 5 where leashed pets are allowed. Admission is $8 to $13 or free for members. For details, visit http://www.lewisginter.org. Full text

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