Ellis voted Teacher of the Year for '18-'19

May 11, 2018 — by Colleen Feng
Photo by Allyson Chang

Timer in hand, Ellis watches over some of the students in one of his P.E. classes as they do their workouts.

Weights clang against the ground to the beat of blaring music as P.E. students complete workouts under the direction of teacher Richard Ellis. 

The hard work his students put into workouts helps them become both faster and stronger. Similarly, the work Ellis has put into his history and P.E. classes in his 17 years of teaching at the school  paid off recently when other teachers voted him as the District Teacher of the Year for 2018-19.

Ellis said he became interested in teaching due to an experience with one of his college professors. Originally, Ellis was waitlisted for her English class because it was already full. Outside her room one day, he heard her yelling at her students about workload and responsibility.

“I was shocked to hear this little old lady snap at a college class like that,” Ellis said. “No sooner had she stopped with her rant than about five to six students got up and walked out, dropping the class immediately.”

Even though he was nervous, Ellis went ahead and joined the class. The professor turned out to be one of the most caring and compassionate teachers he ever had, which inspired him to start teaching himself.

During his time at the school, Ellis started as a full-time social studies teacher, mainly teaching World History and  World Geography. He later added P.E. classes to his teaching load and, along with retired educator Peter Jordan and fellow teacher Yuko Aoki, has done groundbreaking work establishing CrossFit as the dominant curriculum in physical education. The school’s P.E. program has become a model for other schools to copy.

Ellis said he likes making his curriculum relevant and meaningful to students’ lives.

In his P.E. class, Ellis’s students do a workout every year in honor of a deceased soldier. In his past U.S. History classes, Ellis has assigned his students to write reports on current events throughout the semester. In his World Geography classes, he likes to talk about events that are interesting to the students as well as events that relate to what they are learning with the goal for students to pay attention to what is happening both nationally and globally.

“I have found that in doing so, students are able to see why studying a bunch of dead white guys is important for all of us in making quality decisions in the present that will positively affect the future,” Ellis said.

In his P.E. class, Ellis has worked with the other P.E. teachers to create a rigorous curriculum. His students do daily weightlifting and workouts from different CrossFit locations (universities, gyms, etc.). The CrossFit emphasis, which began in 2009-2010, marked a change from the old curriculum, which had been team sports based and included flag football unit, a basketball unit and a volleyball unit — each being around six weeks long.

“We totally re-wrote our P.E. curriculum in order to create a class that is focused on giving students the tools to stay fit after high school,” Ellis said. “The vast majority of our students were not playing [sports from the old curriculum like] flag football, volleyball or pickleball after school.”

One of his current P.E. students, freshman Bryan Chu, said Ellis motivates his classes by telling them what to work on and how to improve their workouts.

“The daily workouts are really good and intensive,” Chu said. “Ellis is really laid back; he’s not super strict, but he demands respect and gets stuff done.”

Overall, Ellis said he feels humbled winning the award.

“There are a ton of teachers on our campus that do a variety of wonderful things who could have won the award,” Ellis said. “The fact that many of my colleagues voted for me is an honor.”


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