Richard Towry wears a lot of hats—or capes, if you will. He’s a massive Beatles fan, he’s been a math teacher at Elgin High School for over 20 years (where he was once a student himself), and has led an EF tour nearly every year since 2012. But one of our favorite accolades? The fact he was the top educator in our Superteacher League during Teacher Appreciation Week in 2019. We recently caught up with Richard and asked him to reflect on what it means to be a teacher right now, on what being nominated by his students meant to him, and the importance of always looking ahead.
Adjusting to a new (and distant) normal
EF: How have things been for you as a teacher over these last few months?
RT: We’re doing the best we can. A lot of students are really stepping up to the plate. I believe they know how important this is. They appreciate the unique position everybody is in right now. Teachers are certainly doing this for the first time. It is what it is, but we’re trying to make the best of it. We’ll get through this, too. We’ll come out on the other side, and we’ll be better for it.
Up, up, and away we go!
EF: How did you first start traveling with EF?
RT: One of my fellow teachers suggested we try an overseas trip and, at first, I didn’t think that was going to happen. I knew there was a certain expense involved, some kids had never been overseas, let alone on an airplane before. I was dubious, but we threw it out there. We had 42 kids sign up to go. It was amazing. I’ve been overseas myself as a tourist, but never as a chaperone. By the time we got back, me and all the chaperones were looking at each other like, ‘Why didn’t we do this years ago?’ So, we’ve been doing a trip either every year, or every other year, since then. We hope to keep doing that many times in the future.
Here comes the surprise
EF: Do you have a favorite memory from tour?
There’s a first time for everything
EF: Do you have any advice for teachers considering traveling with their students?
RT: Whether it be weather, plane delays, illness—a lot of things can happen on the trip that can throw a wrench in things, and you just have to roll with it. Rather than being disappointed with what didn’t happen, you just adjust and appreciate what you end up doing. There’s always going to be changes and that’s fine. That’s how it works. Be flexible, surround yourself with chaperones that you like, and you’re going to have a good trip.
A super-powerful honor
EF: What was it like to be recognized as an EF Superteacher during Teacher Appreciation Week in 2019?
RT: It was a humbling experience. I felt appreciated in my job. I think my students know that I’m a hard worker and that I want what’s best for them. I work with good people, and everyone gets along. There are a lot of teachers just like me that deserve accolades and appreciation as much as anybody does, certainly as much as I do. But, when you hear your kids are putting you up [for something] like that, it’s hard to put it into words. It was humbling and I’ll never forget it. Like I said, being this position, these are the moments when you count yourself blessed. Teaching is a lot of hard work and some days are better than others. But these are the days and the times you remember, and I’ll never forget the kids doing this. There’s nothing better than when your own students come up to you and say you’re doing a good job.
EF: Any words for the new class of EF Superteachers?
We are honored to partner with incredible teachers like Richard, and like so many of you. Thank you for being committed to showing your students the world. Thank you for working with us to create life-changing travel experiences. Thank you for believing in the power of education. From all of us at EF, thank you for doing what you do, now more than ever.
Editor’s note (2021): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.