Teachers of the Year: Herbert Ohta

High School Special Education Mathematics

Teacher at Fairfax High School, in Fairfax County, VA

Nominated by: Kelly G.

“Mr. Ohta has worked with my son in special education for the past two years in both Algebra 1 and Geometry. Doctors said my son would never be able to do math. It is still difficult, but through Mr. Ohta’s patience, kindness and extra work, he has been able to teach him. My son even passed his Algebra SOL last spring! The countless after-school hours that Mr. Ohta spends with students on his own time takes him over-the-top from a great teacher to the most amazing teacher.”


“I take this responsibility very seriously, and it is an honor and privilege to serve my students each day.”


Q&A with Herbert Ohta

Why do you think teachers are important?

Every one of us can point to a teacher who has had a lasting impact on our lives both positively and negatively. As teachers, we have a tremendous responsibility, because we have the power to shape how students view themselves and the world around them. I take this responsibility very seriously, and it is an honor and privilege to serve my students each day.

What’s your funniest teaching moment?

During an after-school study session, I was working with a student who was seated next to me. At the same time, I was also working on an answer key for the next day’s mathematics lesson. As is customary for me to do, I wrote “Key” in the space reserved for the name of the student as a way to remind myself that this is a sheet with worked-out solutions. While I was helping the student, the student inquisitively looked over at my paper and asked, “Who is Key?”

What advice would you give to aspiring teachers?

Teaching is hard work! There will be days when you will wonder why you are here and whether you are making a difference. In those moments, remember that you have the potential for impacting at least one life each day. Every day you walk into your classroom, you need to remind yourself of this one question, “How do I want to be remembered?”

Do you have any tried and trusted ideas or activities for motivating students?

I challenge students without exasperating them. Students should be challenged enough that it is uncomfortable, but not to the extent that it is beyond their capabilities. Students will rise to the occasion. Therefore, do not lower standards to meet benchmarks. When students rise to the occasion, praise them and sincerely encourage them to repeat their success. However, as is in any challenging endeavor, some students will fail and when that happens—help the students figure out how to succeed the next time.

What are three things you use in your classroom everyday and could never live without?

The three things I need in my classroom everyday are grace, patience and faith. Grace because no matter how much I think I know—I still make mistakes and need the forgiveness of my students. Patience because, at times, the students will test every fiber of my being. Finally, faith because I need to believe that what we are doing has a far greater impact than what we could ever imagine or hope for.

About WF Staff

Washington FAMILY Staff

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