Teacher Feature: Par for the course for the reigning Teacher of the Year

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Teacher Feature: Par for the course for the reigning Teacher of the Year

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THERE are a lot of aspects that go into making a likeable teacher. They first, have to be good at their job, a general classroom setting where students do not dread to go or fall asleep for 50 minutes. Second, the teacher themselves must have a welcoming and nice personality, that can blend this into their classroom. Lastly, they must have such a sharp and hard hitting name that becomes instantly recognizable.

That last one is a bit of a stretch, but these three things make history teacher Joel Schlabach a very popular and well-known teacher around the school.

Schlabach grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, went to college at Penn State. He majored in secondary education social studies, and before coming to RHS, lived in Chesapeake, Virginia and taught at a high school there for 9 years. He also is an experienced disc golf player, volleyball player and coach, and the 2017-18 Richmond High School teacher of the year.

Schlabach’s history with volleyball began with his freshman year of high school.

“I went to an extremely large high school in Pennsylvania, so not everyone participated in every activity,” Schlabach said. “Several of my friends in 9th grade played volleyball, and I joined the team. We were pretty successful, finishing 2nd at several of the invitational tournaments my senior year, and only losing in our district to the team that eventually won the state championship.”

He took this experience, and his skills as a teacher, and applied it to coaching.

“I started coaching in Virginia where I used to teach,” Schlabach said. “I was an assistant boys high school coach for a few years and then became the varsity head coach for girls for a few years. I also coached a club volleyball team of 16 year olds who traveled around the east coast playing tournaments each weekend during the high school off season. Eventually, I was asked to be the lead assistant coach of the Virginia Wesleyan College women’s volleyball team. It was a lot of fun, but difficult because it was a huge time commitment.”

This time commitment became a problem as he became faculty at Richmond, as he just had his two twins, Anders and Ingrid, and was trying to balance teaching, coaching, and raising his kids.

“I ended up deciding that I couldn’t commit to coaching with a young family,” Schlabach said. “Maybe someday I will get back into it. I do like to attend RHS and Earlham College volleyball matches when I get the chance.”

During his time at Richmond, he hasn’t only been teaching and coaching, but also playing disc golf.

“I started playing disc golf around 4 years ago when there was a course at Clear Creek Park,” Schlabach said. “I helped to design and add a course to Glen Miller Park and play whenever I get some free time, which isn’t very often.”

Schlabach uses disc golf as a time and place outside the chaos of teaching multiple dual credit courses.

“Disc golf is my zen time in which I am not weighed down by grading or other responsibilities,” Schlabach said. “There is something very relaxing about throwing a Frisbee 350 feet through the woods.”

Schlabach’s help with arranging and creating the disc golf league in Richmond has led him to becoming a high-ranking member of the group.

“My role in the scene is that there are about 15 -25 people who meet up for a league night during the warmer months and I have occasionally helped to run the league,” Schlabach said. “My official title was vice president, but mostly I helped to organize the league.”

Schlabach encourages people checking out disc golf in Richmond.

“I encourage anyone curious to stop by Glen Miller Park’s recreation office,” Schlabach said. “They have discs you can try out to see if it is for you.”

And in the same way Schlabach earned an impressive title in disc golf, Schlabach has done the same at Richmond High. During the 2017-2018 school year, Schlabach received the Teacher of the Year award from Richmond High School.

“I was extremely proud of being selected the Teacher of the Year by the other teachers at RHS,” Schlabach said. “I feel lucky to have the opportunity to teach AP level classes and to be recognized by my peers and the community is one of the greatest honors of my teaching career. I have worked really hard to create an engaging and rigorous atmosphere in my classroom that pushes students to do their best and think my award is a reflection of that.”

He has a distinct style of teaching in mind when teaching his classes and follows this while teaching through all grades.

“I think the success I have is because I ask students to learn to do college level thinking and writing in my classroom and they step up to the challenge,” Schlabach said. “I do this by trying to limit the amount of ‘busywork’ I give to students so that everything has a purpose.”

Schlabach not only wants his students to understand and remember the content in his class, but he makes sure he is also knowledgeable in the subject.

“I work really hard to be an expert in my content area and design my class and assignments to help students be as successful as they can possibly be,” Schlabach said. “I am also surrounded by excellent colleagues who I collaborate with and who push me to be the best version of myself.

He also believes in students actually learning and understanding the subject, instead of just receiving a grade in an unmeaningful class.

“I try to de-incentivize ‘playing the game’ in my classes,” Schlabach said. “I hope to challenge my students to go beyond the mindset of ‘How can I do as little work as possible for the highest grade?’ and actually focus on learning the material and thinking critically about it.”

Schlabach attributes his success, and happiness, in teaching to the students in his classes.

“The thing I am most proud of in my teaching career is the amount of students I have helped to earn college credit while still in high school,” Schlabach said. “My students are awesome and I am constantly fulfilled by their thinking, passion, creativity, and dedication.”

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