Teacher Ron Firmage is one of these individuals.
I first met Ron eleven years ago – back when I was just a budding teacher myself – straight from the chute at BYU, with a head full of dreams and an overwhelming enthusiasm that teaching always seems to inspire.
In just a day or two at my new assignment at Sunset View Elementary School, I became acquainted with Mr. Firmage. How could I not? Ron was one of the friendliest teachers I’d ever met...and I’d met quite a few. Mr. Firmage had a way of making you feel at ease, and there was something about him that made you believe that he had nothing better or more important in the entire world to do than to spend time with you.
It was no wonder to me why his students adored him. I can’t recall how many times I’d hear the younger kids at the school say, “When I’m in the 6th grade, I’m going to be in Mr. Firmage’s class.” In his own little corner of the world, Mr. Firmage was somewhat of a living legend. He was outside nearly every recess with the kids, throwing the football and teaching them about sportsmanship and service to others; yet he never did this with lectures or sermons - this was because he taught by how he lived – his actions speaking far louder than his words ever could.
It would be inadequate to say that his students merely loved him.
Partway through my first year, Ron became my confidant. He was my mentor when times were tough. He was my cheerleader, coach, counselor, motivational speaker, and my friend all wrapped up in one. He was always ready and willing to help with a student, share ideas that had worked in his classroom, and give time to me – or to anyone else - whenever needed.
One of the most amazing of Mr. Firmage’s accomplishments as a teacher was an outdoor education program he’d been running for nearly 12 years. You see Ron was one of those pioneering teachers who believed that teaching shouldn’t only take place in the confines of a classroom’s four walls, or in the realms of textbooks and standardized tests. Mr. Firmage believed in educating not only the ‘academic’ part of his students, but the whole child. In Mr. Firmage’s own words:
“The day I decided to be an educator I made it my personal goal to never make education a miserable experience for my students, like it was so many times for me…[but] how was I going to teach my kids to care for their environment if I couldn’t take them there? How could I get my kids to read about setting goals and meeting challenges if we didn’t go out into the world and try some mental and physical challenges ourselves? This is the way I believe education should be taught. My goal day in day out is to hear my students say that they love coming to school.”
Despite the obstacles that stood in his path, Mr. Firmage – along with the help of administrator, Cindy Wright – began the Expedition Red Rock program. A program he’d lead every year in the spring to Goblin Valley State Park in southern Utah. Each year, 50 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students would take part in this four-day trip where they were taught about the flora and fauna of the area, they researched the native peoples and history of the region, and they learned to work together as a team…all in the classroom of their own backyard. And when the excursion was complete and these motley crews would pile off of the school bus, they’d have a glow in their eyes that hadn’t been there four days before, and would have a love of places they’d never before known existed.
All because of Ron Firmage.
Mr. Firmage headed up this program until he – once again – looked and saw a need, but this time it wasn’t only for students. In order to help teachers in the state of Utah, he took a position at Bonneville UniServ to make a difference for the teachers of the students he loved so much.
Why is Ron Firmage a hero to me? I guess you could say this is mostly because he is the type of person I’m trying to become more like. Why is Ron Firmage a hero to so many people around him? You know, there are a thousand different answers to that question, and to each person who knows him, Ron Firmage is a hero for a completely different reason, a hero nonetheless…