Updated: Jun 6
I think that most of us have one or more (if we are lucky) favorite teachers that really inspired us. I decided I wanted to be a teacher my junior year in high school because of Sarah Baird. Mrs. Bayrd was my American History teacher and she started class on the first day warning us that her class was not easy, and that few students earned an A. For some reason, I took that as a personal challenge, and dedicated myself to proving her wrong. I did prove her wrong, but the truth is that she won in the long run. I was totally enamored with American History through her eyes. I can still remember the things she would say in class each day ("take your homework out, fold it in half, put your name upon it, and pass it to the front," or her readings from the book The Last Cow on the White House Lawn). Sadly, we lost Mrs. Bayrd much too early, though she passed away doing something she loved. She was involved in an auto accident while touring Europe.
Though Sarah Bayrd is gone, she is certainly not forgotten by her many students and certainly not by me. After that American History class ended, I was on fire to be the next Sarah Baird, and I told her that often. I like to think it pleased her. My first job was teaching American Government to high school seniors. I made lots of rookie mistakes, but I also know that I made a positive impact on several students. I got to teach college students while working on my Master's degree in American Studies, too. That experience helped mold my thinking about what I call the "so what" of history. American Studies is, by its very nature, all about interdisciplinary thinking. I began to see all sort of connections between politics and music and literature and social movements and economics and everything else.
All of that, combined with several years working in museums, and almost 10 years of teaching my own children has brought me to where I am now. I believe vehemently that students learn best when they can see the connections between topics, and between their lives and what they are studying. As teachers, we have to help them see why the past matters. I delight in showing world history students how the thread of nationalism is woven through over 125 years of clashes in Europe or how the stories told by native West African people echo in the cautionary tales passed on from an enslaved parent to her child. American government students need to read the U.S. Constitution and see how the decisions made by national, state and local lawmakers impact their daily lives. American history students can look at the origin of the Pony Express and find the history of email on their phones. The study of current events provides high school students with a way to connect history, politics, sociology, economics, and geography. And when students can see the relationships, they understand the material, and then can make further interdisciplinary connections.
My heart is full knowing that I may be able to help a student come to love and appreciate learning the way that Sarah Bayrd helped me. I am so lucky to get to teach the subjects I love, to students that mean the world to me. The opportunities for all sorts of connections are truly endless!