Top Teachers: Matt Togna

All teachers have their share of embarrassing moments, and Matt Togna is not shy about sharing a memorable one of his – which occurred during his first months of teaching.

One lab day, while preparing for his class to use their Bunsen burners, Togna turned on the main valve for the gas line while in another classroom eating lunch. Unbeknownst to him, a student fiddling with the gas valve had left it open – which led to a classroom full of gas and the need to move to another teacher’s room while his was vented.

“[The teacher] made me wear a sort of ‘dunce’ cap,” Togna said, “while I taught my class in her room. She’s been at Tucker for a long time, so she could do that to the new guy. Thanks, Ms. Selden!” 

The last thing his students would label Togna, however, is a dunce. One student called him “one of the smartest, and brightest minds that I know of in Henrico County” and adds that classmates agree Togna is “the best teacher we have had in all of our years K-12.”

His students say that Togna makes difficult courses such as AP and college prep chemistry interesting and easier to understand. Students know they can drop by his classroom any time to get help, and they are inspired by his energy, work ethic, and passion for his job.

“He puts forth 120 percent effort into making classroom time fun, enjoyable, and informative,” wrote one student. “For heaven’s sake, the man arrives at school at 7 a.m. every single day [and] doesn’t leave until 6 p.m. – more than two hours after school ends!”

Togna finds rewards in those long hours, however, whenever he sees a student truly grasp the meaning of an academic challenge. He mentioned a recent incident in which a student critiqued her own lab data and demonstrated that she wanted to understand her mistakes and improve her lab process. “She doesn’t want the right answer simply to get an ‘A,’” said Togna. “She wants to get better!”

In the same vein, he said, “Of course it’s great when a kid finally ‘gets it.’  It’s even more rewarding when they want to know why it’s the right answer.”

Motivating students can be tough, he admits, when difficult tasks such as working through math problems and balancing chemical equations are involved. “It’s so easy to throw in the towel when it gets hard.”

What’s more, he said, a teacher has to remind students constantly of the big picture. “Kids often ask the question, ‘When am I going to ever need this stuff?’

“Well,” Togna responds, “many of you won’t, and that’s okay. Again, it’s about the process of learning and working through something challenging.” 

Above all, said Togna, he has one hope for his students. “It’s that when they wake up in 20 years they enjoy getting out of bed and going to work. That’s how I feel [about teaching]. I want them to have that same enthusiasm for whatever it is that they do.”
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Joe Louis Walker, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Grammy Award-winner and four-time Blues Music Award winner, will perform at 9 p.m. at Buz and Ned’s Real BBQ, 8205 W. Broad St. Walker earned a music and English degree from San Francisco State University. NPR Music refers to him as “a legendary boundary-pushing icon of modern blues.” Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. For details, visit http://www.buzandneds.com. Full text

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