Druid City Living’s Teacher of the Month: Justin Ray, Hillcrest High School/Northside High School

Justin Ray with one of his past classes at Hillcrest High School. Justin Ray with one of his past classes at Hillcrest High School. Justin Ray

Shortly before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Justin Ray and his wife were living in New Orleans. While living in such an economically and culturally diverse city, he says he learned that access to a great education shouldn’t be limited to anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. He brought that mindset with him and used it to become the teacher he feels Tuscaloosa students need to succeed. 

“I have seen students overcome immeasurable obstacles to succeed and break horrific cycles of familial behavior, insisting that their life should amount to more,” Ray said. “When I see how hard they work, and how willing they are to face life’s hurdles, it makes me want to endeavor to my utmost to ensure that they have every tool I can give them to make their efforts successful.”

Ray has returned to his hometown of Tuscaloosa, where he taught at Hillcrest High School for seven years. This fall, he begins a new chapter, teaching high school English at Northside High School. 

With almost a decade’s worth of experience, Ray’s attention has turned to encouraging and mentoring the younger teachers he meets.

“I advise new teachers to focus on the reason they got into teaching in the first place—the students,” Ray said. “Focus on the small, day-to-day victories that students experience in your class, and it will make the long hours of planning and grading worthwhile.”

Long hours are certainly something Ray is used to, as he has earned multiple degrees from some of the top schools in Alabama. He obtained his master’s degree from the University of Montevallo and a bachelor’s from The University of Alabama. Before that, he attended and graduated from Tuscaloosa County High School.

Ray has lived in Tuscaloosa for a total of 35 years. And, like any good teacher, he knows he’s not just teaching students about great literature – he’s also teaching them valuable life skills. 

“A subtler, and, indeed, more lasting influence, perhaps, is the unspoken lessons a teacher bestows on his or her students,” Ray said. “Lessons on manners, civility, conflict-resolution, and even day-to-day skills that some won’t learn at home. Influencing students to become functioning adults is as important as influencing them to become functioning, life-long learners.”

Every student who enters Ray’s classroom is challenged, encouraged, and pushed to learn in a way that stays with them beyond his classroom walls. Once his students realize education leads to a greater discussion of the world and more than just an ‘A’ on a test, Ray says his job is done.

“Learning is an opportunity to step through an open door,” he said. “Whether it’s changing your station in life, or changing the world around you, education is the best way we have to ensure lasting and beneficial change.” 

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.



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