Top Teacher: Ryan Nunley

“The greatest thing about being a teacher,” says Ryan Nunley, “is watching a student work with a challenge, being there to facilitate, then watching them overcome that challenge”—not unlike a group of young scientists working to confirm their hypothesis in the lab.

A pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade science teacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Newport News, Nunley makes learning fun and interactive through various lessons, like the time he introduced a STEM project where students were to design and build their own rockets. He even made a deal with the students: if all their rockets reached over 1,000 feet, he would shave his head. On the final launch, each student achieved their goal, and, sticking with his word, Nunley shaved his head.

“It’s neat for me to be able to see a child who doubted themselves and wasn’t sure they could take on a challenge, then through encouragement, they did it all on their own,” Nunley explains. “That’s the greatest piece about this, to watch them build their confidence, which builds their excitement for learning.”

Aside from teaching science, Nunley is also the Extended Day Program Director for a program called “Really Cool After School,” as well as a coordinator for summer camps for kids. He understands that teaching is not a 9-to-5 job and feels very strongly that if you’re in teaching to collect a paycheck, you’re in it for the wrong reason. “Teaching is something that I get up and do because I want to,” he says.

Nunley credits his decision to become an educator with a strong educational background and teachers who led him down that path. “There are specific people in my life that really showed me what a strong educator was all about, and I think about those people now when I have those challenges in my class that I’m trying to figure out as a teacher. Randy Scienkowski, Gil Murdock, Betsy Albro, Ted Dickson, Betsy Ertel, Curt Camac and Chris Deodorff. These people were huge in building me as an educator.”

In a Top Teachers online nomination form, Cooper Rose, a former student of Nunley’s had this to say: “My favorite part of being in Mr. Nunley’s class was the challenges he faced us with. Each Science Lab, we had a weekly topic that he had us exploring. The labs challenged us to think at a much higher level and work together with other students. He spoke to us “at eye level” and had infinite patience and tolerance for anything except unkindness … I also remember countless times that he pushed us to think more deeply, to write more critically, to express ourselves more fluently. He encouraged us to believe in our own abilities but never let us make excuses for failure, for simply not trying, or for being lazy in our minds and work ethic.”

Nunley describes teaching as a specific career that requires people who are certain about what they want to do. “You have to come to know that child, you have to learn what works for them and what doesn’t work for them, and you have to be able to support and advocate for them when they get into situations where you can tell their learning is being impacted,” he expresses. “In the process, you get educated, and you learn. It’s a career that never stops making you a more well-rounded educator, if you let it.” 

Barrett Baker
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