Teacher of the Year: James Brent

1st-grade teacher at Tuckahoe Elementary in Arlington, Va.

Nominated by Cici Schultz:

“Mr. Brent uses humor and wit to keep their attention. He will put on different personas, say whole sentences using only his hands, gives every child the benefit of the doubt and highly praises the ‘quiet’ kids.”

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Q&A with James Brent


What originally got you interested in teaching?
When professional sports or being a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle didn’t work out, I went with the next logical occupation. I’ve always enjoyed helping young people whether it was as a volunteer camp counselor for Arlington Parks & Rec or simply doting over my younger cousins. I was also fortunate to have many wonderful teachers while growing up in Arlington who helped for my positive relationship with school. I try to emulate those teachers and foster a welcoming environment, particularly for those students who may have a negative attitude toward school.

Why do you think teachers are important?
Teachers are important for the lower grades because our students see us as the “keeper of knowledge”. For some students, we are the adult they see the most in their lives during the school year. We do not just educate but rather we inspire, advise, and simply listen to our students as individuals and respond to each one differently.

What is the single best piece of advice you can give parents?
Let your child be a child! They just learned to walk and talk, let them do it!

What’s your funniest teaching moment?
I received what I thought was a rolled-up note from a student. Upon unrolling, I quickly discovered it was a used baby wipe from her baby sister. Apparently, she had no other paper to write on at the time but thought her message needed to be shared that day. Immediately regretting her decision, through tears told me “I just wanted to tell you I want to be a fire girl!” She is now 15 and uses regular paper.

Heading into this new school year, what are you most excited for?
The new personalities of my students and how they dynamic will work, as well as a brand new team of first-grade teachers!

What are three things you use in your classroom every day and could never live without?
Books: Students read every day and my library is a constant hot spot. It is awesome in first grade where many kids are learning to read and by the end of the year, many are reading to learn.

Colleagues (they come in my room!): I am constantly asking my colleagues for advice or using tricks they use to be successful. Even though I am usually the only adult in my classroom, I could not do this job alone.

Sense of humor:  While it is not a noun, I could not get through the day without trying to be funny. Kids really respond to someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

How can parents and teachers work together to empower and engage children?
Communicate and collaborate. It is important to understand that we both want your child to succeed and reach their full potential!

If I weren’t teaching, I’d be …
A carpenter.


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