The Eaglequill

2018 Teacher of the Year: Rusty McCleave

Amber Carey, Editor

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     When you picture a stockbroker, Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo Dicaprio) in The Wolf of Wall Street is a common image. An intelligent twenty-something year old that just happened to make millions from a startup firm he launched with his friends. The American Dream.

      This is not exactly the first thing you picture in regards to Russtin McCleave. As hard as it is to imagine, McCleave was not only the phenomenal teacher we know and love today.

      He originally went to college for finance, and started working at a banking firm before he graduated.

       He was later offered a job at Charles Schwab, and made the move to Colorado from Mississippi.

      A year later, there was a recession that resulted in many of employees getting laid off. McCleave was one of them.

     “I recognized being laid off how easily disposable I was in that marketplace,” said McCleave. This was the push he needed to delve into the career he was meant to be a part of.

      He realized the part about being a stockbroker that he most enjoyed was teaching others about finance.

     “I wanted to marry the two professions together,” said McCleave. He then applied to the University of Denver to become a part of their teaching education program.

     After he graduated, he taught at a middle school before getting a job at Eaglecrest.

      Through these early years he started to mold himself into the teacher he is today.

     “Every teacher starts off with a philosophy. It probably comes from the teachers that you had when you were in school. I tried a bunch of different things: Trial and error,” said McCleave regarding how he found his identity as a teacher.

       He tried imitating his more authoritarian coworkers, and found that that style wasn’t him. He realized pretty quickly that he couldn’t merely read off of a powerpoint either. He needed to find a way to make students listen.

     “If students enjoy being there that will usually take away most issues in a classroom,” said McCleave. So that’s what he did: He took what would normally be duller subjects and made them relevant to students.

     “The way he teaches makes me want to be there, and his stories teach me to enjoy every bit of the life we live. He makes each and everyone of his students feel special, intelligent and important,” says one of his current students, Madi Bearden.

   He spends his summers looking for intriguing stories about the history of America that can help engage students. McCleave keeps up with current events, and merges the old stories with the new ones to keep it relevant from the student’s perspective.

     “He made me want to come to class every day, even when I was sick. He made me love history all over again,” reminisces Emma Priest.

    More than anything, he never stops trying to improve.

     “Everytime a class is over I’m reflecting,” said McCleave, “It can always be better. Everyday can be better. Every year can be better. I try to be smart with my time but also recognize this job takes a lot of time.”

  McCleave has received nominations for Teacher of the Year in years past, but nothing could’ve prepared him for what it felt like to receive the award.

“Everyone was standing up and clapping and I have no clue what’s going on. I can’t see anything, I can’t hear anything. I am completely numb to everything,” said McCleave reliving the moment still in awe.

    To be qualified for Teacher of the Year one must have taught in the district for five years or more, but to win is a whole other endeavor. Students and parents must login to Google Forms and submit a vote for the teacher of their choice, and answer questions regarding the teacher.

    McCleave has made such an impact on all his students, and that fact was overwhelmingly clear through the support he got voting and celebrating this award.

    For many, McCleave has largely influenced the direction of his students lives and future professions.

    “His most valuable asset as a teacher is his blind faith in all his students, which led to in most cases their new desire to learn. For me, he made dry subjects like economics and US History new passions I plan on basing much of my adult life around,” said Miles Chang.

    His economics class expanded what  Natalie Ivaniszek thought possible for herself.

    “The way he led that class, with such optimism, got me much more invested in my own success in his class. I ended up doing really well in it,” she said. “It opened up more options for me than what I thought I had before.”

    This optimism and obvious love for what he does are two of the most prominent factors in what makes him stand out as a teacher.

     “This is a hard job. You don’t do it for the summers off, you don’t do it for the pay. You do it because you really love it, and you have a passion for it,” claimed McCleave.

When I asked him what was the best advice he had to give to students this was his response: “Take risks. Academically. Personally. Professionally.  Try something hard. Try something new. It keeps you challenged. It keeps you happy. It keeps you young.” He personally follows this advice every day in the classroom.

    “I take risks every single day. I am an introvert by nature so I’m pretty nervous every time I walk into class to stand up in front of a group of people and have to speak,” explained McCleave, “that nervousness can be a really positive drive to go ‘I can beat this. That’s a challenge I have and I’m going to go after it.’”

    McCleave truly goes above and beyond for his students’ success. He won’t ever stop trying to change and perfect his classes to make them  engaging and enjoyable for every student.

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