LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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James Hessler

Position: Math Teacher
School: Arrowhead High School
School District: Arrowhead Union High School District
City, State: Hartland, WI

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James Hessler was nominated by two students. The following profile contains text from each nomination.

"'8:36 — flip the switch and lock in.' The classroom goes from idle chatter to steeled focus at a moment's notice. That is, as focused as a room full of students in puffer vests and glasses chains could be. Today's quiz theme, "Favorite Teacher Friday," required every student desiring a partner quiz to dress up as their favorite teacher. Of course, the only option was Mr. Hessler himself, with flannels and puffer vests an implicit requirement for the outfit. After the obligatory doppelganger-filled class picture, we all went in the classroom to 'flip the switch' and dive into our quiz for the week," said one student.

"Each day in Mr. Hessler's class, whether a themed quiz day or regular lesson, brings something exciting and special. I have had the pleasure of learning both precalculus and AP Calculus AB from him, and I look forward to every class period I attend. Mr. Hessler makes these topics, feared by students across the United States and the world as a whole, enjoyable and accessible for all his students," said the student.

"While Mr. Hessler is a pretty strict teacher, all standards considered, that doesn't make his classes any less enjoyable. Sure, extra credit and test curves are rare to nonexistent, but his teaching style makes calculus an approachable subject for all his students. He connects differential equations to reemerging fashion trends and sinusoidal graphs to cycles in athletic performance. By explaining every new topic properly and then relating it to real-world situations, Mr. Hessler creates deeper connections that carry on outside the walls of a math classroom," said the student.

"Another teaching device of Mr. Hessler's — one that has been quite a fan-favorite over the years — is his use of catchphrases and 'triggers' to go along with calculus concepts. Whether it's 'check your ego at the door' for u-substitution integration or 'smell the rat' for getting out of tricky algebraic situations (which he may be quite fond of putting us in), the sayings he develops go a long way towards helping all his students learn. These sayings make otherwise unremarkable math concepts latch onto your memory, allowing students to effectively remember them long after being taught. Students love these sayings so much that the back corner of the classroom houses a student-made shirt with all these triggers — a testament to their value in student learning," said the student.

"These small yet significant aspects of Mr. Hessler's lessons demonstrate how he has mastered the art of teaching over his years of doing so. You could compare school test score rankings or look at the percentage of high-scoring Arrowhead students on the AP exam to see his proficiency in teaching the material. Still, these metrics fail to show the humanity and love that Mr. Hessler puts into his classes daily. Every day, at 8:36, he comes in ready to flip the switch and lock in — and his students rightfully revere him as a result," said the student.

"I nearly dropped the pre-calculus course I am currently taking during my senior year at Arrowhead, knowing I didn't need another mathematics credit to graduate. There is an anonymous agreement in our world that math gets more rigorous with each course you pass. What was the point of putting unnecessary stress onto my shoulders during my senior year," said another student.

"The first day I sat in Mr. Hessler's classroom, I heard the faintest sound of a saxophone somewhere off in the distance. In front of me, a quote was plastered onto the SMART board, a phrase that was perplexing yet inspiring simultaneously. I turned to see Mr. Hessler switch the subtle background music off on his computer with a giant smile spread across his face. His energy jolted through each student before saying a single word. Our new teacher began sprouting vocabulary terms and equations at us faster than I could think, his words precise and intentional. I left class that day feeling as if I had forgotten to blink, my eyes stuck wide open from trying to process the lesson," said the student.

"Every day, Mr. Hessler greeted me at the door as he does with all his students. This was no standard greeting from any teacher, though, as he stared directly into my eyes, acknowledging my existence, making me feel known and alive as he smiled at me with a hello waiting in his vocal cords. Mr. Hessler was ecstatic to see every one of his students, which made everyone feel important. As I took my seat in his classroom, I always attempted to interpret the new daily quote sitting on the board waiting to be read, making it connect to my life in a way and letting it inspire me. The elevator music soothed my running thoughts as I prepared ahead of time for the fastest-paced class I had ever taken," said the student.

"There was never a day Mr. Hessler wasn't screaming at his students with a grin. The intensity of his personal atmosphere grabbed everyone's attention in the room, forcing his students to pay attention to as much detail as they could. He always used funny words to help students understand math concepts, such as 'one truck plus two trucks' or the 'pencil vs. eraser game.' He would call himself 'not very smart' when going through examples in class, and he made it feel like we were just like him, learning the steps along with him," said the student.

"In 34 years of teaching, Mr. Hessler has missed less than five school days. He wakes up before sunrise, works out, eats a balanced breakfast, and comes to school as the happiest, most energetic teacher. Mr. Hessler always emphasized how much he wanted us to enjoy our teenage years and live our lives fully right now. He ended every lesson with, 'Be a human and talk to each other,'" said the student.