Deep Run High School (Henrico)
In math department chair June Windmuller's AP statistics class, she showed a commercial for Skechers Shape-Ups, shoes that are supposed to give wearers shapelier legs and rear ends. The ad prompted a lot of hilarity in class, but it also led to a lesson: Was a study debunking such muscle-building claims conducted properly? Windmuller challenged her students to find out.
Although Windmuller, a Virginia Tech graduate from New Jersey, also teaches algebra and geometry, she particularly enjoys the statistics class: "It's the most common-sensical math class they'll take." She's also adviser to the Key Club, which cleans Deep Run's football stadium after games, pitches in with festivals and other fundraisers at area schools and — Windmuller's favorite — makes thousands of baloney-and-cheese sandwiches for the needy.
Open High School (Richmond)
Although Ram Bhagat's students don't always relish their time in his demanding science classes, the Open High School teacher says "99 percent" of them like him after the classes are over. In his large classroom lined with windows, Bhagat teaches chemistry and AP environmental science.
Open High, part of the Richmond Public Schools system, has always taken an expansive approach to education, allowing students to follow their interests and learn subjects in creative ways. So, when Bhagat's students study how water molecules behave, they may invent a dance or go to the James River. A teacher for 27 years, Bhagat is a Virginia State University graduate who grew up in New Haven, Conn. In college, Bhagat says, he became engaged in learning, particularly about microbiology, his major. The teachers there were "very inspirational by the way that they taught and cared."
Maggie L. Walker Governor's School
After teaching at the college level for several years, John Barnes wanted a change, so he came to Maggie Walker to teach math. Thirteen years later, he still enjoys teaching calculus, mathematical modeling and reasoning — demanding courses that can be used for college credit by the students who take them.
"These students are so bright, I can take it to a higher level," says Barnes, who grew up in rural North Carolina. The high school, which takes students from Richmond, Petersburg and surrounding counties, has highly competitive admission requirements.
Aside from his teaching duties, Barnes has devoted a great deal of time to the school's extracurricular activities: coaching the academic quiz-bowl team and the math-modeling team, both of which have placed or won in national contests.
"The students love to learn things," he says. "They love the competition."
Cosby High School (Chesterfield)
"I have loved to draw since my earliest memories," says Kathie Tharp, who teaches 3-D sculpture at Cosby High School. Even before she could write, she'd draw letters to her grandparents. A Parkersburg, W.Va., native, Tharp has been teaching for 37 years, 23 of which have been spent in the Chesterfield County school system.
Tharp also created an anatomy and drawing class for Cosby's Health Science Specialty Center. "I love interacting with the kids," she says. "When they've accomplished something, created something unique, you see their eyes light up." It's similar to the feeling small children get when they learn how to read, Tharp notes. "These kids are yours for life."
Varina High School (Henrico)
Bev Lanier works amid high-tech video-editing equipment and television cameras at Varina High School's Center for Communications, where she is chairman, but that doesn't mean she shows a lot of videos in her ninth-grade English class. Her kids will get Shakespeare's version of Romeo and Juliet, not Franco Zeffirelli's or the one starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Since Lanier began teaching 30 years ago at Varina, two things have remained constant: "Good writing is good writing," she says, and her top job is to "put students first." One of her ninth-graders is the son of a former student, and even some faculty members were Lanier's students — including a math teacher who won't address her by her first name, even though they're colleagues now. "This is where I'll end my career," Lanier declares.
Atlee High School (Hanover)
For English teacher George Herring, keeping things light is very important. So important that he sometimes wears green tights, a rubber conehead and elf shoes impersonating the alien Borax. His 11th-graders read Borax's journal entries and correct the grammar errors.
Rochester, N.Y., native Herring, who has been at Atlee for five years, has incorporated technology into his classes to an impressive degree. His entire curriculum for juniors is online; his sophomores produce book-review podcasts. On his door is an inscrutable line from The Matrix: "There is no spoon," which refers to virtual reality but also applies to fiction.