The first time I encountered Justin Stagner was in Fry Hall on a rain-drenched morning at the beginning of the school year. He was carrying a couple of five-gallon buckets and pulling off a reasonably good rendition of Elton John singing, “Bucket Man…I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…” I still don’t know what was up with the buckets, but he struck me that day as someone who was likely a fun teacher.
Justin and his wife have lived in Greensboro for several years. Eight months ago, they welcomed their son, Henry, to the family. Justin grew up near Raleigh, attended Fuquay-Varina High School, then Appalachian State University. For the past seven years, he taught at Oak Ridge Elementary where he and Academic Dean Kevin Brenner were colleagues.
How does Justin describe his teaching? “I’m a pretty active guy and I like to have fun. We move around a lot (including the occasional dance break) and we definitely enjoy ourselves.
“Academically, I’m trying to work on the questions I ask, focusing on higher level thinking. I try to focus on skills that will last throughout their lives. For that reason, we do a lot of collaborating and exploring. I like to give kids a lot of responsibility; it helps them learn about the consequences of not keeping up with their jobs but also the satisfaction of a job well done.”
What have Justin’s students been doing lately? “One student redesigned our city flag and sent a letter to the mayor to explain why it should be changed. Another raised donations for a local animal charity. We even had a student filling backpacks with essentials for low income kiddos in our area. Although I think it is important for kids to be kids, I also think it’s great to give them the opportunity to make a difference in our world and watch them rise to the occasion.”
As the father of a boy, I appreciate that our kids in the lower school have the chance to learn from both men and women. I asked Justin for his take on that. “One of the Episcopal values that resonates with me most is not just tolerating differences but embracing differences. I think it is important for students to see diversity in their teachers. This would include different perspectives and teaching styles but also should extend to gender, ethnicity and religious background. You may never know which student really needs a male role model in his/her life or which student needs to feel like they have something in common with their teacher. It can be a very powerful for student to see a teacher as a learner, too, and that teachers were kids at some point, just like them!”
What does he like about teaching at Canterbury? “The freedom to venture out into new territory: a new lesson, a new app, or a new project.” As Ms. Frizzle (from the Magic School Bus) says, ‘Take chances, get messy and make mistakes!’
by David Whitehead