Presnell uses law enforcement background to teach criminal justice

Published 10:25 am Tuesday, May 12, 2015

NW0512 Teacher of the Year Ryan Presnell

Elizabethton High School teacher Ryan Presnell uses his background as an FBI Special Agent to help guide students through an introduction to the world of criminal justice.

Elizabethton City Schools recently named Presnell Teacher of the Year at both the building and system level for grades 9-12 for the Elizabethton City Schools.

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Presnell has been a teacher for five years. Before that, he worked as a special agent with the FBI in Charlotte, N.C., and as a Drug Enforcement Administration officer in Johnson City. Presnell also served with the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee National Guard and is currently a Carter County constable for the fifth district.

“I was thinking about what I wanted to do when I retired from law enforcement,” Presnell said. “I was sitting in court one day and watched a young man sentenced to 30 years in prison. I thought I would like to do something to prevent that, to do something from the opposite end to keep it from happening.”

Soon after that, Presnell went to work as an assistant coach and American history teacher in Jefferson County. He was there for a year before moving to Tennessee High School, where he taught for two years. He then came to EHS, where he teaches criminal justice courses in the school’s Career Technical Education Department.

While he enjoyed teaching U.S. History, Presnell “jumped at the chance” to teach criminal justice classes. Since the class is an elective, he finds most of the students are excited about the class, and in return, Presnell brings a high level of energy to his classroom each day.

“It makes it difficult,” he said. “I feel like I have to do the best I can each day. So each day has to be more and better than the one before it. I use a lot of interactive projects. I want the students to have a hands-on experience with criminal justice.”

His past career fields allow Presnell to teach from experience.

“Having the background I do, I can recount from experience what it is like to be in a trial, to do an investigation,” he said. “Everything I teach is something I have done in real life.”

Presnell hopes the students leave his classes with a better understanding of the legal process and what it is like to work in law enforcement.

“I know most of these students will not end up working with criminal justice,” he said. “I hope the gain the ability to look at what is going on around them, and to understand what it means.”

This is Presnell’s first teacher of the year award. He said it was a moment of “utter shock” when he learned he had won the honor.

“Elizabethton High School is a school full of great teachers who come in and give their all for Cyclone pride,” he said. “To be pulled out of that crowd and be recognized is very humbling.”

Presnell’s students agree with the decision to make him teacher of the year.

“Mr. Presnell doesn’t just teach criminal justice,” Emilie Madgett said. “He teaches life lessons. You can tell he cares about what he teaches, and he cares about the students. I’ve always thought about going into the medical field, but this class has opened up a lot of options for me. There are ways to combine those fields together. It is something to consider.

Anna Densford also felt that Presnell teaches lessons beyond those in the criminal justice field.

“Mr. Presnell foes above and beyond what a teacher normally does,” she said. “He treats us like we are mature adults, not like we are immature high school kids. He makes sure we learn, not just about criminal justice, but about being respectful and being good citizens.”