Henrico County VA

Top Teachers: Philip Riddle

Brookland M.S., sixth grade
As a child, Philip Riddle noticed that many of the adults he knew spoke of work as if it were a burden.

At the same time, he noticed that many of his teachers relished their jobs – radiating joy in the way that they interacted with students, presented subject matter and provided extra help to those who needed it.

“I just could not imagine waking up every day to go to a job that I did not find joy in,” Riddle recalled. “I knew that if I was going to devote a career to something, it had to be something I was passionate about.

“And I learned very early on that it was easy to be passionate about teaching.”

Today, parents at Brookland Middle School have noticed that Riddle radiates that same joy with his sixth-graders. They cited his contagious, “extremely happy, pleasant-to-have-around” nature, the “can-do” spirit he encourages in his students and the fairness and integrity he models in the classroom.

One student was so taken by Riddle’s fresh, open style that he came home from his first day of school and announced his plans to become a history professor.

But parents add that career choices are not all that Riddle has inspired. He challenges students to become lifelong learners and to make a difference in the world through leadership and service to the community.

Knowing that most of his students will not go on to careers in social studies, Riddle works hard to present the curriculum in a way that engages every student – whether by having the students read together and pose questions, or by sharing stories and interactive sites that will intrigue them.

“A certain percentage of students just love social studies and would look forward to my class even if I just stood up and lectured every day,” Riddle acknowledged.

“But all students deserve a better experience than that. Lessons that are engaging challenge students to think critically . . . [and help them] draw connections between what has happened in the past and what is taking place in their world.”

As rewarding as classroom teaching may be, however, Riddle said that the most meaningful parts of his day are moments in which he can talk to students one on one. Not only, he said, do these times allow for individualized feedback and instruction, but they also give students a chance to talk about concerns outside of the classroom.

“Students need to know that your priority is them,” said Riddle. “And I cannot confine that concern only to what happens in the classroom.”

Unfortunately, busy school-day schedules make it difficult to provide enough valuable one-on-one time, and even the best, most passionate teachers can’t do it all themselves. A supportive community is crucial to a good school system, believes Riddle, who noted that citizens who volunteer their time and resources are always welcome.

After all, he said, “A world class education for all students provides benefits for everyone – not just the children who attend our schools.”
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