In the world of education, so much emphasis has been placed on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) departments, that the importance of the humanities is often overshadowed. One of the biggest victims is arguably the subject of history. Luckily, Timber Creek’s social studies educators have worked tirelessly to ensure that their students are equipped with the knowledge and tools to leave this world better than they found it.
Many students are in agreement that the history department at this school is undoubtedly impressive, one of them being senior Josie Mitchell. Mitchell has taken multiple AP social studies classes, but the one that stood out the most to her was AP World History, taught to her by Melissa Taylor.
“Ms. Taylor has such an enthusiastic attitude for the subject material that I had to learn even if I wasn’t interested,” Mitchell said. “I have never been a huge fan of history, but the Timber Creek history department made me someone who is culturally and historically aware of my current situation as well as the world around me, all in a way that was actually enjoyable. Ms. Taylor and the rest of the history department have done a phenomenal job educating their students.”
Taylor believes that her coworkers have stood out to so many students because history comes with a certain aspect of enjoyment that is difficult to find in other subjects.
“With history, we bring stories alive,” Taylor said. “Students can become different figures throughout history. We do simulations and games that maybe [subjects such as] math can’t do.”
Taylor incorporates many simulations and unique activites into her lesson plans in order to keep students engaged.
“Right now we’re doing a Mongol trial. We’re putting Genghis Khan and his descendants on trial for being uncivilized. In the future we’ll have a World War I simulation where all the different countries [played by students] have to find a means of stopping an all-out war from happening,” Taylor said. “So I think there’s a lot of room to be exciting and engaging in this department. I think students might not realize how many hours teachers are spending on trying to make a lesson go really well.”
Mitchell said that with Taylor’s encouragement and energetic teaching style, she was able to do very well on the AP test and “actually retain the information.”
Furthermore, Taylor believes that she not only has a great responsibility to teach well, but to impact students beyond just what they’re learning in the classroom.
“History is more than just [the] dates of battles,” Taylor said. “There are lessons to be learned here. I think some of the skills you develop in social studies classes, such as critical thinking, empathy, analysis, and understanding are things that social studies teachers really help with.”
Another social studies teacher that agrees wholeheartedly with Taylor is AP United States History, AP Government, and AP Comparative Government teacher Michael Otto.
“I don’t want to be a paper-pusher in some cubicle,” Otto said. “I don’t really find that particularly fulfilling, to go ahead and drive some company’s stock price up half a point. I really like interacting with people and promoting intelligence in them.”
Otto gave insight into the process for choosing history teachers. He explained that Colman Roach, also an AP US History teacher, and former principals have been very selective when doing so.
“They’ve plucked teachers of the year from all sorts of other campuses [and districts],” Otto said. “Everyone who has come here has already excelled somewhere else.”
It turns out that Otto never planned on becoming a teacher. He once thought it would be a “temporary career” while pursuing writing and law school, but eventually he fell in love with the work.
“This was not something I felt inclined to do,” he said. “I wasn’t particularly a good student. I didn’t particularly like school when I was in it, but I think maybe that’s kind of helped me. I can, to some degree, empathize with students who don’t want to be here.”
One student that Otto has most definitely empathized with is senior Chrisna Tamak.
“He makes it fun,” Tamak said. “It’s hard because [government] is a senior class and everyone’s bored, but I genuinely love going to that class. I never want to miss a day. I want to take comparative government with him, even if that means I won’t have fourth or fifth off anymore just because he’s such a great teacher.”
Tamak also expressed that Otto made her feel not only genuinely interested in the content being taught, but also valued as a person, even more so than as a student.
“Every time he sees you he asks you how your day was,” Tamak shared. “He always took time to talk to me outside of class. He made me feel seen.”
Through Otto’s numerous hands-on lessons, such as the Constitutional Convention and mock election activities, which require lots of planning, Tamak realized that she might want to actually study government in university to “implement real change”.
Otto is not the only history teacher that has had an impact on students and their intended field of study. For me, a senior, I started to realize that I wanted to major in political science because of Shane Anderson, who also teaches AP US History. I always thought social studies was the most boring thing in the world, but something was different about his class. I learned to love history in there. Whenever Anderson talked about court cases or political justice movements, I became angry and excited and everything in between.
Anderson said that he sees that same passion in himself and his fellow teachers.
“I know I’m passionate,” Anderson said. “I see passion in my coworkers in this hall. We have a depth of knowledge and more information than we could possibly give to the students. That’s both frustrating, but at the same time liberating.”
Anderson explained that he started out in anthropology and studied all types of cultures. From there, his knowledge evolved and he decided to pursue history.
“I saw history as a way to show students where we’ve come from and how humans interact, and how we can get better,” he said. “I saw it as a way to change society.”
Similarly to Taylor and Otto, Anderson takes his job very seriously and plans meticulously to ensure that his students are getting the most out of the time that they’re in his classroom.
“We have hands-on activities such as an invention game, where we take different inventions from the revolution and actually have students make them,” Anderson said. “The other one that we do is the social. [The kids] learn about a reformer and we have a party and dress up as that reformer. Lots of planning is involved, but it’s a team effort. Mr. Roach and I do a lot to plan together. We meet every day.”
Anderson explained that he puts so much effort into his lectures because he wants students to develop real confidence and intelligence through learning.
“A big segment of my teaching is about motivation,” he said. “It’s about finding the spirit to do. Finding the spirit to achieve higher than you think that you can.”
That motivation is exactly what I felt every time I left Anderson’s fourth period. Without his instruction, I truly don’t think I’d have the same goals for my future as I do now. My experience with Mr. Anderson, as well as Mitchell’s with Ms. Taylor and Tamak’s with Mr. Otto is a testament to how phenomenal the history department at TCHS is. Every educator in that hall has poured their heart and soul into their lectures and lessons. They deserve to be celebrated for their work because without them, so many students would not know what it’s like to want to change the world.