Nick Ferroni used to be an actor. Now, he puts on six shows a day to an audience that doesn’t always want to be there. But after 15 years of teaching history at New Jersey’s Union High School, his career is right where he wants it.

The unconventional teacher has made headlines over the years—in part because People magazine named him the Sexiest Teacher Alive in 2014—something that’s resulted in plenty of good-natured ribbing from his students and colleagues. But also for his approach to education, which often bucks traditional by-the-book practices.

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“Our history books tend to be one-sided,” says Ferroni. “They’re full of facts but not necessarily truths. We indirectly teach kids to be sexist, racist, and discriminatory by leaving out certain figures and events from textbooks. I want students to learn that everyone contributed to our history, not just straight, white, Christian males.”

Ferroni spends as much time talking about history as he does the importance of fitness and nutrition. He worries that in an environment that’s focused on teaching for standardized tests, and with only a handful of states requiring schools to provide the nationally recommended allotment of physical education, we’ll have kids who are good at taking tests, but physically unhealthy. So Ferroni makes it his mission to teach the importance of diet and exercise, going above and beyond what you’d expect from a history teacher—and probably a lot of PE coaches.

If students are hungry or can’t afford breakfast, Ferroni keeps healthy snacks at his desk. If they’ve got a question about fitness, he’s got answers—and stacks of fitness magazines. And if they want to get some exercise on the weekends, he trains students and former students, even going so far as to pay for many of the gym memberships himself.

Ferroni heeds his own advice and has the body to show for it. To stay in shape, he subscribes to the tenets of high-intensity training, and performs 45- to 60-minute workouts combining weights and cardio, six days a week. He uses supersets to his advantage, often sticking to one body part when lifting, and then performing ab exercises between each set. (See his chest workout on this page.) 

To fuel his body, he gets in as much protein as he can, whether it’s a post-workout protein shake, protein bars at his desk, or lean meats for dinner. And he’s a firm believer in intermittent fasting, cramming all of his meals—usually four per day—between the hours of noon and 8:30 p.m. It seems to be working. “At 37 I’m in better shape now than I was at 27, or even 17,” says Ferroni.

His healthy lifestyle and chiseled body do more than just land interviews and make him stand out in the teachers’ lounge. “It makes me more energetic and a more effective educator,” says Ferroni. “Kids can smell phoniness, but my kids know that I practice what I preach. I don’t drink or smoke. I’m very healthy, and they know they can approach me for legitimate advice.”

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Somewhere between all the working out and shaping of teenage minds, Ferroni remains a steadfast advocate for teachers.

“Our world is individually driven and not always empathetic, but good teachers dedicate their lives to other peoples’ children,” says Ferroni. “So if there’s a teacher who changed your life, reach out and thank them. You’d be surprised how much it helps.”

Be sure to check out Nick’s Chest and Abs Workout