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Justin Stygles, Guy E. Rowe School
NORWAY — For Justin Stygles, teaching sixth grade at the Rowe School is like a dream come true.
Even though he has been teaching for 10 years, this is Stygles' first year at Rowe and he couldn’t be happier with the school, the principal and the students.
“The kids here are just great,” he says.
Stygles looks forward to every day in the classroom. In fact, first thing in the morning is his favorite part of the day.
“I love watching the kids arrive,” Stygles says. “They have so many stories to tell and I love to hear them. I feel honored and privileged that they want to share them with me."
Teaching was not Stygles' first choice as a career. At Morrisville College in New York he majored in harness racing – but after two concussions, he decided to go after a different career.
“I think I was always a teacher at heart and it was like an epiphany for me to decide to pursue teaching,” said Stygles.
“I did get something special at Morrisville though. I met my wife Amanda there; she was into saddle horses.”
Stygles holds two master's degrees, one from the University of Southern Maine in Teaching and Learning and one from the University of Maine as a Literacy Specialist.
“The degrees are great,” said Stygles, "but I have discovered that credentials aren’t a big deal in the classroom. The kids want to know you care about them and are there for them first. That is what matters.”
Growing up with a father in the military, Stygles moved around a lot.
“I did four schools and three grades in one year,” Stygles remembers. “My school years started with first grade in Colorado and graduated in New York."
Moving from place to place may have been a little hard on a youngster, but being part of a military family also had some benefits.
“My dad was a 20-year airman. Living in the military gave me life-long experiences I use in the classroom today. My dad wanted me to be the best I could, to work hard and chart my own destiny.”
Aside from his father, Stygles had two other men in his life that left a strong impact.
“The Air Force had a knack for stealing my dad away in my preteen and teen years,” said Stygles.
“I empathize with children missing their dads, believe me. Fr. Joe Motsay, an Air Force priest and retired major stepped in during tough times in my life, when bullying dominated my life and resorted to seclusion for safety. Fr. Joe also pushed me to be better than who I thought I could be."
The other man that helped Stygles was his sixth grade teacher Mr. Rizzo.
“He started to bring me out of my shell and was the first real teacher who I knew believed in me,” he said.
“Mr. Rizzo died of a brain tumor about the time I began student teaching. I very much feel I took his place in life, and serve children the way he did me and my class.”
Stygles finds the first day of the school year to be a pretty energetic day.
“It’s fresh and almost like spring,” he said. “Just as it was when I was a kid.”
The last day of the year, however, can be a bit sad for a teacher that has become close to his students. You fall in love with the kids and they fall in love with you, even though they are excited to be moving on. I just go home and pout.”
Vacation time will find Stygles handicapping race horses at Saratoga and spending a lot of time with his daughter Rhina going to state parks, historical sites and just hanging out.
“I look forward to being back in school,” said Stygles.
“It’s so rewarding teaching; we can open kids’ eyes to the world around them. You know that you’ve helped them think for themselves. It’s all about the kiddos, the pleasure of watching them open up and grow.
I am blessed. I get to do what I want in life. My family and students and colleagues make my world special.”