Heroes of the classroom

The highlight of my eighth-grade year at my Northern Virginia middle school was landing in the social studies class of the incomparable Mr. Hart, a teacher whose reputation for pure awesomeness was well-established long before I entered his classroom for the first time.

Middle-schoolers seem, on average, to be less than enthralled with history, for reasons I never fully understood when I was one. Me? I couldn’t get enough of it.

And as I quickly learned, everything I’d heard about Mr. Hart was true.

He was enthusiastic – to say the least – often gesturing wildly with both hands during lessons, his excitement reaching a crescendo as he described to us in great detail events that I felt sure he must have personally witnessed. These were my favorite 50 minutes of the day, and it wasn’t a particularly close contest.

But the true highlight of Mr. Hart’s class occurred every Friday, when he split the room in half, separating desks to create two teams and clear a lane for the greatest game ever invented (at least within an academic setting): current events basketball.

Mr. Hart compiled a list of 50 or 60 questions each week based upon current events at the local, national and global levels, then read them out Jeopardy-style until someone raised a hand to answer.

Respond correctly and your reward was the chance to shoot a crumpled piece of paper from the lane toward the trashcan “basket” that sat atop a desk at the front of the room. Make the first shot from fairly close and you’d move back to a mid-range position. Make that one and you’d be shooting from the back of the room. The farther the distance, the more points were at stake.

Clearly, this was big-time stuff.

The game was perfect in every way, especially for a shy kid like myself who otherwise mostly tried to avoid being called on in class or being noticed by classmates other than my friends. In this setting, though, I felt right at home answering questions I often was familiar with (in large part because I’d been scanning newspapers, watching the nightly news and generally doing whatever I could to prepare each week for that Friday’s game) and showing off my baseball arm to drain shot after shot.

That game helped me to develop some new confidence, encouraged me to pay even more attention to what was happening in the world each week and even helped me make some new friends. I know that in the many years Mr. Hart taught, current events basketball did the same thing for countless other kids, as well – though he surely never knew the full extent to which he impacted each one.

It was teachers like Mr. Hart whose efforts prompted us at the Henrico Citizen to begin a special annual issue in 2011 that quickly has become our favorite of each year – and judging from online page views, yours too: Henrico’s Top Teachers.

Each year since, we’ve requested teacher nominations for a two-month period through our website, HenricoCitizen.com, inviting you to suggest one or several deserving Henrico teachers whose impacts on your life or the lives of your children, grandchildren, friends or neighbors have been profound and worthy of recognition.

The nominations never disappoint. Many are emotional, detailed and heartfelt. Students have described how certain teachers truly have changed their lives. Parents have described how teachers have brought their children out of their shells, or helped motivate them when no one else could or made them anxious to attend school when they had dreaded it previously.

The most difficult part of our job is selecting just 20 teachers to be honored each year. We tell their stories each March, but there are just as many whose stories we wish we could tell. Suffice it to say, Henrico is fortunate to have many outstanding teachers who are true heroes of the classroom.

Without fail, those we do select almost always seem shocked to be singled out for their efforts. They are touched by the words used to nominate them and almost embarrassed to be publicly recognized for doing what they love to do. Each is exceedingly deserving.

We’ve opened the nomination process again this year for our 2015 Top Teachers issue; you may submit nominations through Dec. 31 – as many as you’d like, in as much detail as you please (the more the better) here: http://henricocitizen.com/index.php/news/teacher_form.

Help us recognize the life-changing efforts of Henrico’s public and private school teachers, won’t you?

E-mail Citizen Publisher Tom Lappas at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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