Frenship Heritage MS named regional Teacher of the Year

Teachers are really important to students.

Jeremy Wagner, an eighth-grade science teacher at Heritage Middle School, believes that at the middle school level, a teacher is the single biggest factor in the success of a student. It’s his job, he said, to learn about his students, get them engaged, get them involved and tailor each day so the students get something from it.

Perhaps that’s why he was named the Region 17 Education Service Center Secondary Teacher of the Year for 2012 this week.

If you ask Wagner, he will tell you this: He’s a bit surprised to be honored. He’s been teaching for just five years, and he said he didn’t believe a teacher with so little experience could be named teacher of the year for Region 17.

However, he said he makes up for his lack of experience with enthusiasm and passion for teaching students to love science.

Some may believe teachers don’t do much over the summer. Wagner, with his passion for teaching, can prove otherwise. He and another eighth-grade science teacher have been working together and already have two weeks worth of lesson plans, including five science labs, planned out on a whiteboard for the start of school. That’s 25 days away, if you’re counting.

Students will be told from their first day in class, “You’re going to do science,” he said, emphasizing the “do.”

His students should expect to do frequent labs, he explained, noting that they may even get a little dirty. Last year, they had done more than 70 by February.

Textbooks aren’t used a lot in his classroom, he said. Instead, he incorporates current events, like countries experiencing earthquakes, when teaching about earthquakes. He quizzes students frequently, and tries to gauge which students learn more by auditory lessons, visual lessons or hands-on lessons. Then he tries to teach a bit to all three groups.

He also teaches under the theory that students who are growing up with social media learn better by talking about ideas and exploring them together.

His students apparently love him. It’s hard to gauge these things during summer, normally, but a student and his mom drove by as Wagner was getting his picture taken Tuesday, and he hung out the window to give a shout-out to Wagner the way fans call to rock stars.

Wagner was born in Lubbock, moved to New Mexico for a spell during childhood, and returned to middle school in Frenship. He graduated with the Frenship High School class of 2002.

His favorite teacher during his own eighth-grade year at Frenship Middle School, then Frenship Junior High, was Susan DeWaters. Now she’s his co-worker.

He knew in high school that he wanted to be a teacher. His mother, Sherry Wagner, became an elementary school teacher when he was in middle school, and although he watched as she struggled to parent and study, he saw when she started teaching that she was making an impact.

As a high school student, he was also inspired by his history and gifted and talented teacher, John Franklin.

“I’ve never really had a passion for history, but I had a drive for how he impacted my life,” Wagner said.

Because he wanted to make a meaningful impact on the world himself, he decided to become a high school math teacher.

Math was easy to him, he said. But then when he started majoring in mathematics at Texas Tech, he discovered that he really enjoyed his science classes.

“I’m really good at math, but science is really fun,” he said.

His first job offer was at Frenship Terra Vista Middle School teaching eighth-grade science.

“Ever since I’ve been teaching, it’s almost like an obsession,” Wagner said.

Science classes in high school sometimes left him perplexed, he said, but the pieces of the puzzle all came together in college courses. Now he said his greatest wish as a teacher is that students will leave his classroom saying, “Science is awesome!”

Wagner gained a lot at Terra Vista Middle School, and he’s grateful. The best thing is that he met his wife, Emily, a sixth-grade reading teacher, in his first year of teaching. They now have a 3-year-old daughter, Lainey.

Outside of school, Wagner said most of his interests center around his family. He is lucky to have several family members from both his and Emily’s family in the Lubbock area.

“My family is probably the largest portion of my life outside of school,” he said. But he said he really loves going to the movies as well, citing several romantic comedies and action and adventure movies. He also enjoys cooking with his wife and playing disc-golf at Mackenzie Park.

Wagner’s honor at the regional level qualifies for recognition as the 2012 Texas Teacher of the Year, which will be selected in September and announced in October.

Wagner will be recognized by the Frenship ISD Board of Trustees on Aug. 13 at 7 p.m.

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