Influential Teachers 2

A Chat with Some of Billings’ Best in Education

The philosopher Plutarch once said, “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” The spark for this fire comes from a select group of leaders: teachers. In Billings, the area’s youth have access to especially excellent instructors. Here are a few of these super educators who help light the fire of knowledge and are molding the future of both Billings and the world beyond.

Tony Riehl

Tony Riehl has been teaching math for nearly 40 years, and trying to count all of his achievements is an overwhelming task. A Montana Teacher of the Year finalist, he has won numerous awards for teaching excellence, including the Montana Council of Teachers of Mathematics Dean Preble Award, Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching and the Billings Golden Apple Teacher Award. He has been at Billings’ Skyview High School for almost 15 years and currently teaches advanced math while serving as chair of the Skyview High School math department.

BL: What made you first want to become a teacher?

TR: I had some amazing teachers at all levels as role models that inspired me to want to make a difference. I liked the challenge of doing something different every day, and I like exploring math and sharing it with others.

BL: What do you like most about teaching?

TR: I love working with students and watching their growth. The interactions with my students are very rewarding.

BL: What do you think makes the Billings community special?

TR: I’ve been fortunate to have great support from parents from the Billings community. My students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and home situations, but they are very accepting of others.

BL: What are you most proud of?

TR: I am proud of the fact that I am learning every day and make constant changes to make my class environment a better learning environment. I take pride in incorporating technology in my classroom to make the learning process more efficient.

BL: What do you think the key is to getting through to young people?

TR: We need to make connections with people before we can make any difference in their lives. I have learned over the years that I need to spend a significant amount of time getting to know my students, their interests and their fears at the beginning of each year.

BL: What advice do you have for young people who are considering entering the field of education?

TR: You have got to enjoy what you are doing. If teachers are not excited about their job, their students won’t be excited about their class.

Jamie Jarvis

Jamie Jarvis teaches U.S. history and geography at Lewis and Clark Middle School. His teaching and coaching career spans more than two decades. A firm believer in the powers of student engagement, he also serves as an educational travel guide and is the creator of the Two Roads Project, a program that lets middle school students create and manage small-scale community outreach programs. A Billings Education Association Teacher of the Year award winner, his teaching style has been described by his students as “personable” and “welcoming.”

BL: What made you first want to become a teacher?

JJ: I guess when I started coaching basketball with West High back in 1994. Doug Robison was the coach, and I was thoroughly impressed with how he got players to learn his style and system of basketball. He also built a positive team culture that taught things like hard work, perseverance, goal setting and character development. What I learned from Doug and other coaches on the staff influenced me towards getting into education.

BL: What do you like most about teaching?

JJ: That’s an easy one—the kids. Each and every day hanging around with middle school students is a unique, fun, challenging experience.

BL: What do you think makes the Billings community special?

JJ: There is a level of support here for kids that makes it a wonderful place to grow up. Growing up in Billings, I was always involved in after school activities. Those activities would not be able to happen without caring, committed parents. So, I think the great families we have here make the Billings community pretty special.

BL: What are you most proud of?

JJ: I am most proud of making a positive impact in students’ lives.

BL: What do you think the key is to getting through to young people?

JJ: Without a doubt, it is building relationships and rapport with students. Students are very perceptive. They know if you are genuine in your love of what you do and your interest in them as people. As a teacher, if I can build a good rapport with them, they will be successful in my course.

BL: What advice do you have for young people who are considering entering the field of education?

JJ: Teaching, much like life, is about relationships. If you have built up trusting relationships with your students, you will be successful and happy in education. Building rapport starts on day one.

Craig Beals

Craig Beals is a chemistry teacher at Billings Senior High School and the 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year. He has centered his career around engaging students and “spreading enthusiasm for science, education and learning,” and it’s fair to say his reach has been widespread. He has conducted research and taught across the globe, including in Belize, Borneo and Mongolia, and he has even hosted his own special for the History Channel titled “Secret Earth: Yellowstone Supervolcano.”

Billings Lifestyle (BL): What made you first want to become a teacher?

CB: I never intended to become a teacher; it just kind of worked out that way. While attending MSU, one of my teachers asked me if I would be willing to TA a class. From the first day teaching the class, I was hooked.

BL: What do you like most about teaching?

CB: I appreciate the kids and their energy. I like the autonomy to be creative with my instruction and in my planning. But, what I like most is seeing young people surprise themselves when they realize that they are capable of learning, that they are smarter than they thought they were, that they really can rise to the challenges in life and in education.

BL: What do you think makes the Billings community special?

CB: Billings is full of hardworking people who have high expectations for student’s education. I get to see these values in my students as they come from varied ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. This diversity is what makes our community special.

BL: What are you most proud of?

CB: My family. My wife is the hardest working person I know, and she is my Superwoman. My kids are way smarter than I will ever be and have hearts of gold.

BL: What do you think the key is to getting through to young people?

CB: The key to getting through to young people is to respect them. Respect is a two-way street, and once they realize that I am willing to respect who they are as a person, they begin to build trust and respect for me.

BL: What advice do you have for young people who are considering entering the field of education?

CB: Just do it! But be prepared for the most joyous, painful, heartbreaking, fulfilling ride of your life!