Teacher of the Week: Justin Barnhart, physical education, Centennial High School | Education

Justin Barnhart doesn’t care much for down time.

When he’s not teaching physical education at Centennial, the Urbana native keeps himself busy as the school’s Assistant Athletic director, associate head football Coach and a certified personal trainer for both the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and the Stephens Family YMCA.

Inside the school walls, he makes sure to keep himself busy as well.

“Justin Barnhardt is one of the most dedicated teachers you will find,” Principal Scott Savage said. “He loves working with his colleagues to solve difficult problems and wants to provide the best experience to all students. Justin is always positive, even when faced with a challenge. Justin is respected by his colleagues, administrators, students, and parents. He will always do what he can to improve someone else’s day and give the shirt off his back if necessary.

I find my work important because … as a student, I had some tremendous teachers and coaches along the way who inspired me. Their influence has helped me strive to be just as influential in the lives of my own students/athletes. As I have grown in the profession, I have learned how important the daily interaction is between students and teachers. I have had so many former students say, “Do you remember the day you said … to me. I think about that conversation we had a lot.” As Maya Angelou is quoted, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I became a teacher because … I was given so much from my teachers/coaches and want to be able to do the same for others. I get the opportunity, everyday, to give some hope and some direction to my students.

My favorite/most unique course that I teach is … my adapted physical education class. I have 17 students with special needs who inspire me every day to be a better human being. In spite of the challenges they deal with daily, the energy and smiles they bring to our class make me want to work as hard as I can to provide an environment where they can be challenged, grow and help others. The teamwork and skills gained from playing modified floor hockey, goal ball (trashcan ball) and kickball together are a highlight each and every day. Although this course requires the most amount of planning, meetings and energy, it is definitely the most rewarding.

My most fulfilling moment on the job was/is when … I drive to work between 5:45 and 6:15 am each morning. I honestly haven’t had a day when I haven’t wanted to go to work. There is no doubt that I enjoy a good day off, but I have never been one to handle down time very well. Juggling teaching, coaching and administrative duties is challenging but rewarding. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I am very grateful for my wife (Jaime), who is a second-grade teacher at Judah Christian School, for putting up with my long hours at school and carrying the load of our family so often.

Something else I’m passionate about is … coaching others towards their goals. I have been a certified personal trainer for the past 25 years, working for both the CU Mass Transit District and the Stephens Family YMCA. Helping others create and reach goals is something I enjoy doing. This passion, along with coaching varsity football at Centennial since 1998, has given me an opportunity to be around others who are driven, working through challenges/adversity, and has truly been a humbling experience.

My favorite teacher and subject to study in school was … There are two local teachers who have to share the spot. Cindy Louret was my sixth-grade teacher at Leal School in Urbana. She was an awesome teacher who believed in me. When I transitioned to Urbana Middle School, she even tutored me through some of my middle-school classes. John Gremer was my high school driver’s education teacher and one of my football coaches at Urbana High School. He was one of the most relentless, hard-nosed, inspiring and funniest individuals I have ever known. I am grateful every day for these two teachers who wouldn’t let me settle for being mediocre. My favorite subjects in school were Biological sciences, although I truly did not develop a love of the field until my college days.

I Engage students during this strange time by … finding humor in our daily lives. During remote learning, I started telling a few “Dad Jokes” on Fridays, which I coined “Barnhart’s Bad Teacher Jokes (BBTJs).” I tried to tell three to four jokes each week, and by the end of the pandemic, I was struggling to find good material. I still have kids who come up to me in the hallway and ask if I have a joke to tell. I always ask them their name because I have no idea who some of them are as they were behind computer screens when I first met them. I still try to mix in my BBTJ’s and continue to get tons of eye rolls and an occasional “good one from students.

If I weren’t a teacher, I would be … a professional long-distance hiker. I do not have any formal training (beyond my Cub Scout days in third grade) and may not be very good at it. I would, however, love to hike the Appalachian or Pacific Coast Trail, trying and rating new gear for companies who provide it.


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