Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year

Meet Ryan Hardesty, Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year — he’s from our region!

Photo above courtesy of Ryan Hardesty, Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.

There’s no business like show business – or school business, you might say. Ryan Hardesty, a social studies teacher at Blackhawk School District, combines the two with class presentations that include costumes, rap music and music videos that immerse students in lessons.

“I just try to be as engaging as possible,” said Hardesty, whose recent class on the Gold Rush involved a treasure hunt for “gold” that he hid around the school. Each gold piece held the information his students needed for the class.

“Their attention span is about as long as the one-minute TikTok,” he says. “It’s really hard to keep them engaged for 40 minutes. I’m trying to just keep them on their toes and give them a different experience.”

Ryan Hardesty in costume.

Hardesty’s talent as a teacher has now brought him acclaim as the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, chosen from a pool of 12 finalists from across the state.

The Pennsylvania Dept. of Education uses the Teacher of the Year program to identify and honor exemplary teaching and classroom practices. Each year, they recognize a professional who:

  • inspires students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn
  • has the respect and admiration of students, parents and colleagues
  • and plays an active and valuable role in both school and community.

“We get to see quite a few costumes throughout the year in his classroom,” said Sylvia Davis, when she introduced Hardesty at the department’s SAS Institute conference, where the announcement was made. “He uses his costumes to explain and capture our attention. He teaches us to think every day and to want to learn outside of his classroom.”

Sylvia, an eighth-grade student at Highland Middle School, nominated her teacher for the honor. It’s a family affair of appreciation: Her brother and sister have also benefited from Hardesty’s style of teaching.

Hardesty says he learns from and relies on his Blackhawk colleagues to continue to grow as a successful teacher. But it’s the kids who challenge him to do his best.

“They push me to try new things, figure out new things and adapt,” he said of his 7th- and 8th-grade students. “And if it wasn’t for that push, I would be stale and doing all of the things I had always been.

As the students respond to his teaching style, they work harder — and so does he.

“It’s just building a relationship and building a rapport where they acknowledge that you’re putting in the work and you’re doing these things to make school fun for them. Then, when you’re asking them to do something that’s a lot more heavy lifting, they’re willing to go the extra mile for you and put in the work on those days because they know that they will still get some days that are really fun.”

Eric Hagarty, Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, pointed out that there are about 250,000 teachers in Pennsylvania, with the 12 finalists being “the best of the best.”

“It’s really incredible what these 12 folks do,” he said, “whether it’s in the classroom, dealing with bullies in school, mental health wellness or getting through the pandemic. It’s really incredible what these folks do, and you can see that they all create a sense of belonging in their classrooms.”

Ryan Hardesty (right) with Pennsylvania Dept of Education Acting Secretary Eric Hagarty.

As Pennsylvania’s Teacher of the Year, Hardesty will travel the state, meet and collaborate with other educators, and will represent the commonwealth in next year’s National Teacher of the Year competition.

“Education right now is at an interesting crossroads where educators are feeling tired and burned out at the same time,” Hardesty said. “Kids need more, newer content instruction than we’re used to and I know it’s a hard time for a lot of educators. We just have to keep trying to do our best.”

The Pittsburgh region was honored by a number of finalists in addition to Hardesty for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year. They include Abbey C. Nilson from Shaler Area School District, Ashlee L. Peters-Roberts from Burrell School District, Jason A. Turka from Bethel Park School District and Melissa B. Unger from South Fayette Township School District.

Do you know a teacher worthy of the Teacher of the Year honor? Learn more about the program and how to nominate your favorite teacher on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website.