Walking through the halls of Pleasantville's North Main Street School, fifth-grade teacher Darryll Ramsey seems invaluable, his presence emanating celebrity status. But the Pleasantville native - recently named Teacher of the Year at both the school and district level - is hardly resting on his laurels.
As a Pleasantville High School student, he excelled, graduating in 2000 as its salutatorian. In Greensboro, N.C., where he attended North Carolina A & T State University and held his first teaching job, his goal was to challenge himself. And even now, his goal remains, "How can I learn something else and do something more."
Since 2007, Ramsey has bounced between the preschool, first and fifth grades at North Main. It was twice during that time that the once-untenured 31-year-old teacher found himself opening a letter of dismissal.
The Atlantic City resident realized that as numbers drop, cutbacks and firings just become "part of the game."
"To know that they wanted me back, that was special to me," Ramsey said. "I know people that don't always get that opportunity. I don't take that for granted."
With his attention placed on fifth-grade math and science lessons and an ongoing pursuit toward a master's degree in educational leadership, the recent Teacher of the Year recognition came as a surprise.
"There are a lot of good teachers here," he said. "It was an honor that they chose me. It was a shock."
The school's teachers and staff themselves gave Ramsey the highest scores on his ballot, based on his achievements in the classroom and overall dedication to the job.
Music teacher Betty O'Shea visits Ramsey's class once per week, referring to the teacher as "Mr. Personality."
"No one probably cares as much about the teachers as he does," she said, adding that he plays sports with the students at recess when he's not on duty and has consistently assisted his fellow teachers with computer or technology issues.
Ramsey, who said he strives to be up to date, incorporating technology into his everyday lesson plans, was not always set on education.
While at university, he interned at AtlantiCare, with hopes of becoming a pediatrician. He recalled someone telling him, "You're probably just going to end up being a teacher, like your father," so at the time, "I just wanted to prove them wrong," he said.
Following the internship, he knew that the doctor lifestyle was not for him. After substituting for two summers at Pleasantech Academy Charter School in Pleasantville, he knew he had found his calling.
"I (have) a gift for this," he recalled thinking. "I had fun with it. I said this just felt right."
After teaching for three years in North Carolina, he realized he had to come home.
"I was hearing about the violence, and I heard a lot of people had a heart for the youth, but they didn't know how to reach the youth," said Ramsey, who also serves a youth minister at Dunamis Ministries in Pleasantville.
"I said, 'Let me go and see if I can help.' I believe I was purposed to come back home, and I've seen kids that have said their lives are different because of me."
Lead teacher Melanie Harrington said that Ramsey is deserving of his recognition, having a brilliant mind and a genuine concern for the students.
"You can see that he wants them to do well. He puts everything into supporting them in every area, not just academically but also as a mentor, and I think he has a heart for the children."
Although Ramsey said he keeps his students laughing, he admits, with a smile, that his "approach is a little different."
"Some people may have said I was a little too strict," he said. "I believe in structure that (leads) into organized focus that (leads) to production.
Ramsey said that teaching is about passing on knowledge, and for him, setting expectations high.
"I always felt that it was better for them to fall short of a high bar, rather than a low bar," he said of his students, adding that he pushes his 10- and 11-year-olds academically to better secure bright futures.
"(I) keep trying to push them so that they can have the best opportunities possible. That's what the push is for."
The district will recognize Ramsey on May 3 at the Superintendent's Apple Awards, Superintendent Garnell Bailey said. Submissions for the county's teacher of the year are in March.
"It's a nice ride, and if it keeps going, fine," Ramsey said. "If not, I'm happy with what has happened so far."
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