For this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, we once again asked students across the nation to tell us what makes their favorite teacher a superhero. Out of the thousands of nominations we received, five teachers stood out and were inducted into the EF Superhero League—and received a $1,000 donation for their schools.
After a week of heartwarming stories (and about 250,000 votes!), Richard Towry, a math teacher from Elgin, Illinois, ultimately rose to the top and won a $5,000 donation for his school and a Professional Learning trip to Berlin.
Get to know our superhero—in his own words:
Special Power: The ability to trick students into thinking math can sometimes be easy (even when it’s really not).
Origin Story: My Superhero high school teachers Mr. Wallace (history) and Mrs. Morrison (literature) fostered in me a love for teaching. Why I ended up choosing math is anyone’s guess.
Kryptonite: Chocolate, of course. Ritter Sport in Berlin. Chocolate gelato in Capri. Those free chocolate samples they give you on Swiss Air flights! So good!
What makes Elgin High School special:
I started teaching at Elgin High School for the same reason most teachers do, I guess—it was the first school to hire me! It didn’t hurt that I was an alumnus of EHS (class of ’88!), and that I knew a number of the teachers already. It made the transition from student to teacher a lot easier.
Why have I stayed for so long? (It’s been 26 years now… yikes!) First and foremost are the students that I am blessed to teach, many of which are in the EHS Gifted and Talented Academy. These students are a constant source of inspiration for me as I watch them grow from small and confused freshmen to funny, smart, ready-to-take-on-the-world seniors. I’m also blessed to work with the best faculty ever, especially my peeps in the math department and the other Academy teachers. Finally, I grew up in the Elgin area and it feels great to give back to that community.
Favorite teaching moment:
Many of my students will tell you how I teach the unit circle in trigonometry. I hold a ruler in my hand and make a samurai gesture with it while yelling “Cosine! Sine!” to help them remember what the points on the unit circle tell you. It seems to be one of those things that students never forget, even years after they’ve graduated. Plus, I get to pretend to wave a sword, which is always fun.
Favorite moment on tour:
It’s hard to pick a favorite tour, since each of them had their special moments. Riding bikes through Barcelona was wonderful. Visiting Abbey Road in London was something the other tour guides planned without my knowledge because they knew I was a huge fan of The Beatles. They did it again when we visited the John Lennon wall in Prague. Paris is, of course, Paris. I will say that Italy was the surprise hit. There wasn’t a day on that trip where we didn’t think “This will be the best day of the trip.” Every day just kept getting better and better, from Venice to Pisa to Pompei to Capri to Rome—every stop was amazing. We’re visiting Rome again next year, and I can’t wait!
What his students say about him:
“Mr. Towry has the amazing ability to make math fun. Who would ever want to memorize the trig circle? But, I found myself always ready to learn because he makes sure we understand the concepts and his jokes makes class fun.”
“Mr. Towry is a teacher who never fails to make me laugh, smile, and try my hardest. He can be brutally honest, but also so sincere and it makes me so happy when I get him to laugh or smile. He has tons of fun quirks, has made our class love to play trivia, and is always doing more to make his class enjoyable as well as more educational. He is a superhero.”
“He cares so much about his students. He never lets anyone give up and he’s always there for anything anyone needs! He even plans multiple major trips a year for his classes so that we can get the best experience possible in high school.”
“I’ve known Mr. Towry for the past four years at Elgin High School. As a senior who has been in two of his classes, I can most definitely say that he is a superhero. He does everything he can to give his students the best education he can. He makes us work hard, do homework every day, but also has fun with us. On top of all the work he does for all of his students, he even plans many activities outside of school like these amazing EF Tours. Mr. Towry gave hundreds of students a vacation of a lifetime and I can’t thank him enough for everything he does for us. He has been like a father to all of us and always puts us first. That is what makes him a superhero.”
“Mr. Towry is a superhero in every way possible. Not only does he juggle the turmoils of teaching 8 classes a day each filled with 28 crazy teenagers, but he also finds time to spoil all of hus students. Mr. Towry has taught at Elgin High School for more than 20 years and with all of that time, he still never got anything in return. He has helped students whenever possible(with educational and personal aspects), made his students laugh and truly enjoy learning, and planned numerous field trips and out of school activities. He works the hardest when it comes to planning events and earnestly cares for and protects each of his students. He never lets us down and always shows the best of everything. Mr. Towry is the closest human being I know to be a superhero in corrupt modern world, where compassion, kindness, and sincerity are utterly forgotten. I nominate Richard Towry as my superhero and favorite teacher at Elgin High School.”
Let’s give teachers like Richard Towry the superhero recognition they deserve.
To thank all teachers, we lit the Empire State Building in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week on Tuesday, May 7th and continue to do our best to help teachers expand students’ minds in and out of the classroom. Teacher Appreciation Week may be over, but let’s continue the celebration and thank our teachers today and every day.