For top teacher, classroom is best place to improve the world

  • Article by: PAMELA MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 3, 2010 - 12:04 AM

Ryan Vernosh, who teaches sixth-graders at Maxfield Magnet Elementary, gets state honor.


In this photo provided by Education Minnesota, Ryan Vernosh, left, hugs one of his students, Tyree Galloway, 13, after being named 2010 Minnesota Teacher of the Year at a banquet in Brooklyn Park, Minn., Sunday, May 2, 2010. Vernosh is a sixth grade teacher at Maxfield Magnet School in St. Paul, Minn.

Photo: Janet Hostetter, Associated Press - Ap

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Ryan Vernosh believes that teachers are front-line soldiers in the fight against poverty, inequity and despair.

Serious stuff. But even in the heat of battle, he said Sunday, he's had plenty of fun.

Vernosh, 31, who teaches sixth grade at Maxfield Magnet Elementary School in St. Paul, was named Minnesota's 2010 Teacher of the Year Sunday at a banquet in Brooklyn Park. The 10 finalists for the award, sponsored by Education Minnesota and several other groups, were nominated by students, parents and peers.

Vernosh said he went into teaching "to tackle issues of inequity," including the academic achievement gap between white and minority students. "I believe education is the avenue to addressing those problems and to bringing about change by teaching kids to take control of their own lives," he said.

Many of Maxfield's students live in poverty, and Vernosh said home struggles and sorrows often surface in the classroom. He considers such moments opportunities.

"One of the things a classroom can do is offer an emotionally and physically safe environment for students going through hard times," he said. "School content ... doesn't have to be separate from the daily lives of young people."

But his classroom is far from somber. "I'm amazed at the sense of humor, the vitality, these sixth-graders bring," he said. "That allows me to stay a sixth-grader myself, in terms of fun, into my 30s."

Vernosh grew up in Green Bay, Wis., and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002. He and his wife, Sarah, also a teacher, and their daughter, Myah, 2, live in White Bear Lake. He's taught at Maxfield for four years.

As the state's top teacher, he'll give lots of speeches and represent Minnesota's teachers at national events.

Two of Vernosh's students were at the banquet to cheer him on. His class is all male because Maxfield groups sixth-graders by gender -- an experiment requested by the students themselves to cut down on "the distractions of young romance," as Vernosh put it.

Will his award be a distraction at school Monday?

"The kids will probably be aware," he said. "The young men who attended were probably texting their friends about it on their way home."

Pamela Miller • 612-673-4920

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