SHERIDAN — Sheridan Junior High School science teacher Ryan Fuhrman had quite the calendar year in 2017. As part of being named Wyoming Teacher of the Year in the fall of 2016, Fuhrman attended several events around the country.
In one of his final appearances related to the Teacher of the Year award, Fuhrman appeared Jan. 9 on the podcast series, “Leading from the Classroom.”
The podcast started in 2016 as a collaboration between the NWEA, the not-for-profit creator of assessment solutions; the Council of Chief State School Officers; and the National Teacher of the Year program. Fuhrman’s episode is available at TeacherPodcasts.org and on most podcast apps.
Jennifer Anderson, director of engagement and internal communications at NWEA, interviewed 45 teachers for the podcast. During the episode featuring Fuhrman, the teacher said he was nervous meeting all of the other teachers of the year for the first time.
“My fears were confirmed when I realized I had not accomplished nearly the amazing things that my fellow teachers had done: rescuing refugees, rebuilding homes after hurricanes,” Fuhrman said on the podcast. “In front of a bunch of kids I’m confident, I’m charming … But speaking in front of a room of adults about issues that were important to me? Terrifying.”
On the podcast, Fuhrman was joyful, witty and humble, Anderson said.
“What’s really interesting and inspiring to listen to is, as they go through this journey all year — Ryan included — I think they discover that the platform that they’ve been given is a way for them to be a voice for the voiceless,” Anderson said. “Their voice becomes a megaphone for something much larger than just being Teacher of the Year.”
Fuhrman agreed. Previously, he kept his head down and focused on teaching his students, but Fuhrman learned the importance of voicing his concerns over the past year. Now, Fuhrman is more keyed into larger education issues, partly as a result of serving on the Wyoming State Board of Education; his term runs until 2023.
On the podcast, Fuhrman also mentioned attending Space Camp last July at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, along with dozens of teachers of the year. He said those few days helped him understand the power of diversity and working together with people from different backgrounds.
One of the activities at Space Camp involved designing a system to keep an egg intact from a blowtorch for five minutes. Fuhrman was partnered with an art teacher and a special education teacher.
“Our final design was far superior than all the others, and it wasn’t in spite of the vast differences; it was because of (them),” Fuhrman said. “That’s like a huge lesson when you grow up in Wyoming and diversity is a little bit harder to wrap your mind around.”
Fuhrman also gained valuable teaching insight from Space Camp, like giving students an engineering challenge while they are learning about a certain topic. For example, when his students learned about electromagnetic waves, Fuhrman had them create their own space telescope to reflect light.
Space Camp and a podcast were far from the only things Fuhrman did in a whirlwind calendar year. He visited the White House in April and recently returned from the College Football Playoff National Championship in Atlanta, where he was a member of the Extra Yard for Teachers program.
“It was a year that has stretched me and grown me more than anything ever,” Fuhrman said.
Traveling the country and talking with teachers from other states opened Fuhrman’s eyes to the struggle some kids have in receiving a decent education.
“That’s been the most beautiful thing from my year, is to hear so many different points of view,” Fuhrman said. “Education is essential and it has some issues, and if we don’t get it figured out, we’re not going to be the nation that we definitely could be … Education equals opportunity, and so when we deny that to anybody, we’re denying them the robust chance at a great future.”
Fuhrman said it still felt odd to be singled out when he has many excellent coworkers at SJHS.
Still, he appreciated being recognized for his efforts and said it’s been great to share the journey with his wife, Leslie, a special services teacher at SJHS.
“No one goes into teaching for the glory and fame, so to have even a sliver of that is kind of nice,” Fuhrman said. “Teaching is a foundational profession to the strength of our nation. That’s how I feel, and it’s not one that often gets celebrated.”
He credited fromer SJHS principal and current SCSD2 assistant superintendent Mitch Craft and school leadership with fostering an excellent educational environment. Fuhrman appreciates the environment even more now after traversing the country and hearing stories from other teachers.
“Sometimes you have to go away to find that out,” Fuhrman said. “It’s really easy to just be bombarded with all of these educational initiatives, but to take the long view and steadily work toward a goal and be patient in doing it, that’s rare.”
With Fuhrman’s work, reaching those long-term goals may become less rare for schools in Wyoming.