Teacher of the Week: Ryan Searby

English teacher Ryan Searby has spent his entire 14-year career at St. Joseph-Ogden.

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Email staff writer Anthony Zilis with nominations: azilis@news-gazette.com

Ryan Searby prides himself on giving his students fond memories and changing the way they view the subject matter he teaches. His 14th year of teaching at St. Joseph-Ogden may be the most memorable of them all, and the 2001 Centennial graduate is trying to make the most of the strange circumstances, engaging his students online while trying to broaden their understanding of the English language. “From completely changing how he teaches and prepares his AP English students, to looming his classes and rethinking how to appropriately assess students with fidelity,” Principal Gary Page said, “he has done whatever he can to maintain a high standard of learning in this classroom while empathizing and understanding the struggles students are enduring during the pandemic.”

Ryan Searby, St. Joseph-Ogden High School, English

I find my work important because ... it is so important for our society to have people that not only have a knowledge of subject material, but that can think for themselves and be positive contributors to society. As a teacher, I have the ability to impact the lives of young men and women and challenge them to exercise the most important muscle they have: their brain. Content knowledge is important, but more importantly, if my students can start to think for themselves on a daily basis, then they will have the tools necessary to be lifelong learners.

I became a teacher because ... as cliche as it is, there is nothing like seeing the “light bulb” moment when a student grasps a concept or masters a skill that they never thought they could. Being from a family of teachers, I was no stranger to being on the receiving end of those moments growing up. I learned how truly valuable and rewarding those moments can be from the other side when I was 13 and got a summer job teaching 7- and 8-year-olds how to swim. Seeing the look on their faces when they learned they could swim on their own was one of the most rewarding feelings I’d ever had. I knew then that I wanted to pursue a career in education.

My favorite/most unique lesson that I teach is ... I have a game that I play that I’ve had since I was a student teacher. It’s centered around baseball. The idea is that the class will work together as a team but will provide answers individually, kind of like a batter in baseball. If a student gets a question correct then they draw from the “hit” card pile and see what kind of hit they got. We keep track of base runners with post-its on a poster board that has a baseball diamond on it. The more correct answers, the more hits they get, the more runs the team scores. It’s a fun way to introduce or review material, and I’ve had students from all grades that I’ve taught tell me they enjoy it.

My most fulfilling moment on the job was ... when a student wrote a letter to me toward the end of her senior year and told me that, although English was never a subject she ever connected with, I was able to help her understand concepts and open her mind in new ways. I feel that when people tell me that English was their least favorite subject, it has more to do with how they were taught rather than what they were taught. I try to be the kind of teacher that students can look back on fondly and say that they were challenged, but they learned something. To have a student go out of their way and actually tell me that that was the impact I had on them was incredibly fulfilling.

Something else I’m passionate about is ... card games. We had an initiative at SJ-O a few years back to have the teachers share their passions with their students. The idea was to show students a side of ourselves that was outside the class curricula and help build connections with students as people. I chose to teach my students how to play a card game that I particularly enjoy and play at almost all of my family gatherings: euchre. Afterwards, I had a student tell me that her father was excited to learn that she had learned the game since he played it so much in college and now she could partner with him. I also enjoy nontraditional card games like Magic: The Gathering that my students introduced me to and has become a hobby of mine.

My favorite teacher and subject to study in school was ... Tom Lenkhart, my fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Bottenfield Elementary School in Champaign. He challenged me academically not just with math and science and spelling, but with critical thinking. More importantly, he taught me responsibility and accountability. We did not always get along, but I learned academic and life lessons from him that carried me all the way into my college years. I also have to mention Dan Kuglich, Elsie Engelhaupt and my mother, Brenda Searby (who actually was my English teacher my entire junior year!), from Centennial High School. They instilled the passion for English in me that I try to help instill in my own students.

I engage students during this strange time by ... giving them what I call “Culture Videos” on Google Classroom. I have been fortunate that I have had a wide range of experiences in my life which my students, unfortunately, have not. I try to bridge that knowledge gap a little by sharing short clips of things that I find to be “culturally relevant” or just things I think they should know. These videos can be clips from movies, old TV commercials, Saturday morning cartoon segments, anything I can think of that I feel might give my students a better understanding of the world, or just a better understanding of me so they actually get the movie references I make in class. One of my favorites is the battle of wits scene from “The Princess Bride.” It’s such a classic scene from such a classic movie.

If I weren’t a teacher, I would be ... working my way up the corporate ladder at a Las Vegas casino.

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