2022 Teachers of the Year: High School Winner Justin Higby
Higby teaches math at Columbus Alternative High School in Columbus City Schools.
Justin Higby is one to hide from the spotlight, not be in front of it.
But that’s the position in which the math teacher at Columbus Alternative High School finds himself after he was named the high school winner in the Columbus Parent/ThisWeek Community News 2022 Teachers of the Year awards.
“I’m definitely humbled by it,” says Higby, 37. “I don’t take it lightly either. It’s a little scary. I feel like there’s pressure with that. To me, I love my job. I get to do what I want.”
Higby was nominated by Christine Creagh, whose son, Riley, had Higby as a teacher all four years of high school. “Mr. Higby supports the students as whole people,” she says. “He is an excellent math teacher, but he goes well beyond academic support and lets the students know he is concerned with their overall wellness. He used humor and genuine concern to make sure students felt well supported.”
He is known by staff and students to go beyond what the job requires, she says. “The rigor is no joke, but Mr. Higby makes sure students have what they need to be successful, even if that means meeting with them multiple times outside of class to go over content,” Creagh says.
“Also, my son always felt like Mr. Higby just got him. He showed interest in my son’s non-math-related activities, and that helped my son feel more comfortable, especially when he was a new freshman in a rigorous academic program.”
Principal Darryl Sanders has worked with Higby for nine years. “He’s a great teacher, innovative, has a passion for young people—a sincere passion,” he says. “One of the things I would say is, he extends himself beyond the classroom.”
The classroom is Higby’s “calling,” Sanders says. “I talk to Justin about administrative opportunities, but he tells me he feels married to his role,” he says.
Higby, a Zanesville native, graduated from Tri-Valley High School and Ohio State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in math and a master’s in math education.
He taught a year apiece at Northland and Beechcroft high schools before interviewing at Columbus Alternative, where he was hired for the 2011-12 school year. “I’ve been here since and hope to never leave,” he says.
Higby, a resident of Reynoldsburg, teaches geometry, AP statistics and International Baccalaureate math analysis and approaches.
He doesn’t take compliments easily, saying CAHS has a committed staff of teachers who go out of their way to help students succeed. “I think all of the teachers at our school are open to that,” he says. “We all give our students our schedules, tell them when we’re free, even at lunch hour, we’re free after school—whatever.” He says he’s even done Zoom sessions at home.
Riley Creagh, one of the class of 2022 valedictorians, will study business with a focus on finance and entrepreneurship at Ohio State University, his mother says.
“My son has been playing around with investments and some small business ventures for the last year, since he turned 18, and Mr. Higby always offered him encouragement,” Christine Creagh says. “I know Riley was proud to have Mr. Higby’s support. Mr. Higby is someone my son will always remember as an important role model and valued teacher.”
Higby says he knew he would go into education “ever since I was a sophomore at [high] school.”
“I just liked explaining things to people,” he says. “I enjoyed that. I did like school, and I didn’t want to work with elementary school kids. I wanted to work with kids I could have fun with and still influence in a positive way.”
He says he teaches his students three fundamentals: everyone is on the same team, the goal of the class is to learn and improve, and mistakes are how we learn. “I try to reason with students instead of getting angry at them,” Higby says. “I will explain to them why rules are what they are and have a calm conversation with them.
“This is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but it’s easily the best one I’ve ever had,” he says. “I never look at the clock and count down the hours or minutes until I get to leave. I’m really lucky that I get to do something that I love and get paid for it.”
Gary Seman Jr. is a reporter for ThisWeek Community News.