Jeffery Price, 56, loves to mow his lawn.
After he’s finished, he is able to stand on his back deck, gaze out across the yard and see a visible difference from when he started.
Teaching Advanced Placement English at Science Hill High School does not have the same tangible takeaway.
“[It’s hard to] trust that what you’re doing is going to help someone in life,” said Price.
Price began teaching special education 27 years ago in his hometown of Abingdon, Virginia, but moved to Jefferson County Schools as an English teacher. He transferred to Science Hill in 1999.
“Things have come and gone,” said Price. “When I first started teaching, I thought I was really good, and then I realized I was really, really not good. I know more about kids and what I’m teaching than I did.”
Price graduated from Carson-Newman University with a bachelor of arts degree in religion and philosophy in 1983. He returned in 1991 and received his teaching certification and English minor.
Since then, Price has drastically improved in the eyes of his colleagues. Price received the Teacher of the Year distinction in 2016 from his school, and then later a selection committee confirmed him.
“When you’re a coach and a man you have to live a lot of things down because of preconceived notions about why you’re doing what you’re doing,” said Price. “It’s gratifying to get that kind of respect from your faculty.”
Price’s good friend and co-worker Timothy Vanthournout believes it was Price’s reputation in the community that earned him the distinction.
“He changes lives of his students with the way he develops relationships and the expectation of excellence he continually gets students to achieve,” said Vanthournout.
Price took over AP English 10 years ago and is now the English Department Chair. In that time, the average number of students taking the AP English Exam has doubled.
“The way Jeff relates to students is his best quality,” said Vanthournout. “His ability to connect with students in his classroom is the foundation of who he is and how he creates a classroom environment that is second to none.”
Price’s classroom is covered in vibrant posters of novels and eccentric props used for acting out plays. The students sit facing one another surrounding Price, who stands in the middle of the room. Students are unafraid to voice their concerns to their teacher, and they value his opinion.
“I like the AP classes because the kids are willing to learn,” said Price. “They’re smarter than I am. I try to bring [material] into the classroom that has been meaningful to me and will make them think.”
Price covers a wide range of material in his AP courses. The first semester is spent studying British Literature, and by the end of the second semester, the class will have read three novels, three plays and extensive amounts of poetry.
“I’m not teaching English,” said Price. “I’m teaching people.”
Price said the most important professional development that he engages in is the AP English readings. For one week in June for the past seven years, Price and other AP English teachers from across the country have met to grade student essays for eight hours each day.
“It can be tedious at times, but I learn a lot,” said Price. “If it weren’t for the exams, the class would be a lot more fun because we wouldn’t have the writing or the multiple choice. But the AP exam actually teaches you a skill set that when you get through with that test-taking mentality, you can become a better reader and writer.”
In addition to teaching his senior-level English courses, Price also heads the Liberty Bell Middle School wrestling program. He has coached in five different schools, including Science Hill from 1999 to 2013, when he took over at Liberty Bell. Every school that Price has coached has received multiple conference titles and some regional and state championships under his instruction.
“Good coaches are almost always good teachers,” said Price. “Wrestling is the best sport to enforce qualities in you that you can apply to everything you do.”
Jason Shelton, the head wrestling coach at Greeneville Middle School, developed a relationship with Price 10 years ago as his rival. Now, the two consider each other to be friends.
“He brings out the best in me in coaching,” said Shelton. “I would consider myself lucky to have achieved what he has in athletics. Yet, at the same time, I know he is only a phone call away if I ever need to talk to him.”
Price is easily accessible to all of his former students and wrestlers as well.
“Coach Price has a positive impact on all who come in contact with him,” said Vanthournout. “It is commonplace for former students and athletes to seek out Coach Price just to catch up. This shows me that he has made an incredible mark on their lives.”
Away from his coaching and teaching responsibilities, Price leads a relaxing life. His wife of 18 years, Julie, is the counseling director at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Sullivan County. His stepson Tyler works at the Museum of Natural History in New York.
“She’s the best person I’ve ever known,” said Price about Julie. “But they’re both really good at perspective. They’ve taught me a lot about having patience.”
The Prices enjoy walking their dog and following the Detroit Tigers during the season. Price also enjoys re-reading his favorite book, “The Once and Future King.”
“The whole idea of the book is that you use your power to make the world a better place,” said Price. “To me, that’s just how the world ought to work.”
To Price, English isn’t necessarily the most important subject taught in a classroom.
“I want [my students] to think for themselves, but I want them to be smart about it,” said Price. “[I want them] to live out that authorial idea that you’re going to have a gift or a power and you need to try to use it to help other people.”