ACE’s John Webber chosen as district’s ‘Teacher of the Year 2016-17’
In the hallway outside John Webber’s classroom at the Alternative Center for Excellence is a refrigerator covered with graded papers that would make any parent proud. Well, it’s not really a refrigerator, but it’s called “the fridge” and it’s there to let students know that he is proud of their efforts and accomplishments. Support and encouragement from teachers like Webber are part of what makes ACE students successful.
The popular and supportive teacher known for his good nature and character is Danbury’s “Teacher of the Year” for 2016-17. “ACE students regard John as a role model, someone who engages them in relevant learning and a man who demonstrates integrity in every way,” said ACE principal Sandra Atanasoff.
Part of this integrity is in his teaching style, which he believes is not just teaching students in academics, but helping them grow and develop into young adults. Learning about respecting others is one of the components that he incorporates into his classroom. His teaching philosophy is something he puts into action: “There are layers in teaching. When they fit together is when they are most effective,” he said. “When they all work together is when the kid benefits the most.”
A 1993 Danbury High School graduate, Webber earned his undergraduate degree from University of Massachusetts Amherst, a master’s degree from University of Bridgeport, and a Sixth-Year Certificate from Sacred Heart University.
Webber who teaches biology and aquatic and environmental science, has been at ACE for the past 12 years. “My whole career I’ve been at ACE,” Webber said. “I chose ACE because the students you work with here make you a better teacher. The kids have challenges that most adults don’t face.” Webber explained that many of his students are considered “at-risk.” “They are forced into situations where they grow up really quick,” Webber said. “This is a place where you get a third, fourth or fifth second chance.” Therefore his challenges as a teacher include constantly adapting to fit the needs of his students because he doesn’t expect them to fit into his style; he maintains that he is one who needs to keep changing. “That challenge strengthens you as a teacher,” he said.
Webber enjoys the extracurricular component of his job, which means taking students on outdoor adventures, such as camping, white water rafting and hiking. This past year, he took 23 students on a hiking trip where they hiked four to five miles a day carrying their own camping equipment. Webber believes in learning beyond the classroom so that students can develop skills that help them meet their physical and emotional needs and learn to connect with people and situations outside of school.
“They need to see what they are learning is going to result in something in their lives,” he said. Webber said there are 15 students to a class, at ACE which is challenging because they all have different needs. “You have to find the time and resources for each student,” he said. “It’s flattering to receive this, but it’s not my award. There’s no way to do your job effectively in this building without a tight unit – and it’s the staff – the whole staff. You can’t be ‘Teacher of the Year’ if you don’t have all these people.”
He is glad that he can be a part of the students’ growth, but said it’s hard to see them move on. “(When they graduate), there is a simultaneous feeling of pride and a void. You never get the same student twice and they are all unique.”