Spotlight: 10 Questions for Ryan James (VA '17)March 7, 2018
At his mother’s suggestion, young Ryan James (VA ‘17) spent a summer as a peer tutor. From then on, education was his number one career choice: “Whether it was as a tutor, camp counselor, resident adviser or teacher, I always felt that I connected well with younger people.” Ryan won Virginia’s 2017-18 Milken Educator Award at Richmond’s Lucille M. Brown Middle School on November 15, 2017.
1. What went through your mind when you heard Lowell Milken call your name at your surprise notification?
Ryan James: I couldn’t believe what was happening. I remember speaking with my students about the dignitaries coming to the assembly. We were under the impression that the assembly was about our new STEM lab, so I was definitely surprised to hear that I had just won an award.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Ryan: My students seemed just as excited and shocked as I was. After the Award, it was easier for me to grab their attention—they were eager to come to class, hoping that more news cameras would be close by. They have become more open with one another creating a positive community. Also, students are beginning to encourage their quieter classmates to participate and get more involved.
3. How did you end up in education?
Ryan: My mother first introduced me to the idea of becoming a teacher when I was about 13. She encouraged me to apply for a summer job as a peer tutor at a local elementary school. That job showed me all the different roles a teacher plays. Throughout high school and college I continued to work as a tutor and mentor. Whether it was as a tutor, camp counselor, resident advisor or teacher, I always felt that I connected well with younger people.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Ryan: My grandfather and two of my mentors, Paul Britt and Trey Lewis. All three of these men have taught me valuable lessons at different parts of my life and have always been willing to help others.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Ryan: Many times I felt I was way out of my league. Often I would go home feeling defeated that my lessons did not go as planned or that I was not connecting with the students. There were several veterans in the building who encouraged first-year teachers, and they told me many times that “the first year is always rough.” Even though my first year of teaching felt chaotic, the students are the number one thing I remember. I have crossed paths with many of them over the years. It’s remarkable to see how far they have come.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Ryan: The passion I displayed throughout the year. I try to reach every child who steps through my classroom door. I try to make the content relatable in order to engage students and keep them involved, bringing music and social media into my lessons.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Ryan: Getting my students to know and understand that they can achieve any goal they set their minds to. Many of my students face daily challenges that I’ve never experienced. It’s important for them to know they can beat the odds.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Ryan: I am strongly considering going back to school to obtain a master’s degree in Educational Leadership. Also, I have to travel around the country, and my Award money will provide me the opportunity to do so.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Ryan: I would explain that this is a great field to go into, but they have to be passionate about bettering society’s future. At times I make teaching look fun, and it is, but there is more beyond the surface.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Ryan: Being able to exceed expectations. In our competitive world, it’s often not enough to be satisfactory. The ability to bounce back and overcome adversity is a key part of being successful. Things will not always go as planned, and you must be able to handle the trials and tribulations that may come your way. If I can inspire those around me to strive for excellence, I have done my part to build an effective community.
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