Henrico’s Top Teachers – Valerie Bryant
Short Pump M.S., Spanish
As a six-year-old, Valerie Bryant taught lessons to neighborhood children while she was still a child herself. She also created a library on her parents' front porch, complete with check-out cards for children who wanted to borrow books.
There was little doubt that she was headed for a career as an educator.
"I started out really early," she said. Her first professional teaching job came while she was still finishing her undergraduate degree at VCU and a position opened at the New Community School in Richmond.
Bryant, now a Spanish teacher at Short Pump Middle School, is in her 29th year as a teacher but still learning something herself every day.
"It's been great, and I'm not tired of it yet," she said. "Every year I feel like I'm getting better."
She's experienced Henrico from one side (Varina High School, where she taught Spanish and English from 1977-87) to the other (she began at Short Pump Middle 20 years ago, following a break to raise her own children).
Bryant's longevity is not lost on her students.
"Six years ago or so, a girl on the first day of school said, I hope you don't get mad or embarrassed, but you taught my sister 12 years ago," Bryant recalled. "Then another kid stood up in the back and said, 'You think that's bad – she taught my dad in the '70s [at Varina].'"
Her talent in the classroom isn't lost on her colleagues.
"She is an acknowledged leader in the Henrico world language community, and is considered by many to be a "master teacher,'" one wrote of Bryant. "Her commitment to her students' well-being surpasses her teaching ability, especially with those who are academically- challenged, and she is always searching for new and innovative ways to engage her students in the language."
Bryant adheres to a mantra she developed several years ago.
"I say I'm going to be fair but not equal," she said. "They know that they need to have their homework in on time, but if someone's dad has a heart attack and they were in the hospital all night, then I'm going to have leniency. Once they know I'm going to be honest that way, they believe me."
While some shy away from the middle school years, Bryant embraces them.
"[Students] have more energy, and they're really sort of just living between home and class and extracurricular activities," she said. "It's so contagious to watch them learn."
Some of Bryant's former students have gone on to become language teachers themselves – including several in Henrico, with whom she now serves on committees. Bryant takes joy in making learning fun for her students, having them act out various scenes in Spanish or Photoshop themselves into pictures of famous Spanish settings.
"She had a student who was autistic, but seriously loved music," a nominator wrote. "She gave him the opportunity to perform Spanish language songs in front of the class and encouraged an atmosphere of acceptance by the other students, making the student feel valued and competent."
Though much has changed since she began her career, much remains the same.
"Students are not different at all," she said. "Kids who are in eighth grade are still going to be acting like kids who are in eighth grade, because they are still experiencing growth spurts and going through other changes. That's what fun – you can kind of rely on that."
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