Teacher Spotlights

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for April 2020 (Stephen Kimbrough, Addison, Texas)

Stephen Kimbrough

Vital Stats

Name: Stephen Kimbrough
School Name: Trinity Christian Academy
City, State: Addison, Texas
Subjects Taught: AP U.S. Government and Economics
Grade Taught: 12
No. of Years Teaching: 34

With 34 years of experience as an educator, Stephen Kimbrough teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Economics to seniors at Trinity Christian Academy in the North Dallas suburb of Addison, Texas. Pedagogically, he uses the Socratic method as well as models, flow diagrams and other graphic organizers to demonstrate how various processes develop, rather than just having students memorize facts.

Kimbrough has been using the Student Governmental Affairs Program (SGAP) for about 10 years in his AP Government classroom. “I have students research the issues and write a short argumentative essay on each issue,” he says. “This is good practice for the AP Government exam, which now includes an argumentative essay.”

A Republic, Madam, If You Can Keep It

In his AP Government classes, Kimbrough emphasizes the importance of students becoming informed citizens as they prepare to graduate from high school and go out into the world. “I want students to have a deeper understanding of political concepts,” Kimbrough says. “When we study a specific political concept, I always challenge my students to ask the ‘why’ question.”

For instance, why did the United States Founders establish the country as a republic instead of a direct democracy? “Our Founders understood the problem of an ignorant populace, which is precisely why they created a republic,” Kimbrough says. “As our nation has become more democratic, it has become more important that we advance a more informed citizenry.”

Over time, Kimbrough says, the U.S. government has slowly changed to become more of a democracy. As a result of the Seventeenth Amendment, he points out, people now choose their senators, something the founders did not intend. Also, some people call for the removal of the Electoral College, so the people can choose the president.

But the Founders did not trust the people to make these decisions, Kimbrough says. “They knew that many of the people would not research policy questions and candidate choices, which means they could be manipulated to make decisions for selfish motives,” he adds. “My goal for my students is that they understand this and make good decisions in light of how it is supposed to work and how it works today.” 

Pushing Past Partisanship

As an educator who uses SGAP in his AP Government classroom, Kimbrough believes social studies teachers must be careful not to put partisanship before teaching students to understand both sides of the issues. “I believe that if teachers can truly reveal the truth behind an issue, and not just their own ideology, that a well-informed citizenry can, and will, make the right decisions,” he adds.

The fact that today’s generation is part of one of the most informed societies in history is both a challenge and an opportunity, Kimbrough says. “Students are inundated with political information from a myriad of social media sources,” he adds. “It’s vastly important for them to be able to separate fact from fiction in order to promote a free society for generations to come.”

Kimbrough hopes that when students leave his class, they will be able to identify what the U.S. Founders intended for the American government and how that vision compares the system we have today. “Also, I desire that students remember their political participation that they completed during the course and realize that politics is not daunting, or only for people who have some type of special expertise or knowledge,” Kimbrough adds. “Everyone can get involved!”

Teacher Spotlight on Amber Konzem (Richardson, TX)

Amber Konzem

Name: Amber Konzem
School Name: Lloyd V. Berkner High School STEM Academy
City, State: Richardson, TX
Subject(s) Taught: U.S. Government, Economics, Personal Finance
Grade(s )Taught: Mostly 11th and 12th grades with some 10th grade
No. of Years Teaching: 7th year: all of it at L.V. Berkner and none of it could have happened without our outstanding faculty and staff supporting each other.
Honors: Published in TSHA Online Handbook of Texas and included in the TSHA ebook, Women Across Texas History, Vol 1.

Although she has spent 24 years of her life working with school-age students in various capacities—from subbing to working with at-risk students and scouting—Amber Konzem has spent all seven years of her official teaching career at Lloyd V. Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas.

An affluent inner suburb of Dallas, Richardson is home to the University of Texas at Dallas and the Telecom Corridor; more than 5,000 businesses have operations within Richardson’s 28 square miles. Berkner High School is one of four public high schools in the Richardson Independent School District, and it is where Konzem teaches U.S. Government, Economics and Personal Finance to 11th and 12th graders.

Teachable Moments

Konzem says she has recently engaged her students in classroom discussions on subjects such as the 2020 Presidential Election, branches of the U.S. government, and the economic market and trade. “I assisted eligible students to register to vote and several were in time for the upcoming presidential election,” she says. “They were very excited to be able to participate and vote.”

In today’s socio-political environment, now is the perfect time to teach students about civics, Konzem believes. “As students transition into adulthood, they need to have a strong knowledge of the Constitution, how the government functions, and how to initiate change when society deems it necessary as well as how our freedoms have been protected by the Amendments and how these freedoms can be lost,” Konzem says. 

Responding to the Pandemic

Speaking of lost freedoms, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Richardson Independent School District to make numerous changes for the best interests of the students and its faculty and staff members. Communication from the district and individual campuses to the student body, parents, staff, and community has been a vital component of the plan, Konzem says.

“Virtual learning has been a challenge for everyone,” Konzem says. “However, with the added technology the district has provided, a little creativity from both students and teachers, and a lot of patience from everyone, the beginnings of a routine is taking shape. In early October, f2f students were excited to return to the classroom.”

The school district has taken aggressive action to adjust to the current COVID environment, including requiring wearing of masks while on campus and social distancing, Konzem explains. “We have also provided face shields to all students and faculty and staff; expanded the number of lunches to create smaller groups of students in the cafeteria; and initiated a seating system in the entire building, which allows for distancing and contact tracing,” she adds.

With all the changes that have gone on in her school, Konzem says her approach to classroom management remains essentially unchanged except for having a greater sensitivity to possible social-emotional learning (SEL) issues.

“I try very hard to ensure that my classroom is a safe place for students where they have the opportunity to learn and grow as individuals—not just gaining knowledge in Social Studies but skills that can be used throughout their lives,” Konzem says. “I have an unwavering belief in my students and their high potential for success in their futures.”

Teacher Spotlight on Jill Villasana from Columbia, Missouri

Jill Villasana

Name: Jill Villasana
School Name: Muriel Williams Battle High School (“Battle”)
City, State: Columbia, Missouri
Subject(s) Taught: Government, AP U.S. Government and Politics, ACT Prep
Grade(s )Taught: Mostly 9th grade, ACT Prep is 9-12 elective
No. of Years Teaching: This is year 20!
Honors: James Madison Fellow 2004

With 20 years of teaching experience, Jill Villasana has always been a high-energy kind of teacher, which makes teaching students virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic feel “different.” Nonetheless, she can see the positive in a challenging situation.

“If a student wants to work on their assignments virtually at 11 p.m. or 6 in the morning, they have the option to do that and can get extra hours at work or care for their family members,” Villasana says. “Allowing students flexibility to work on school when they want to is an obvious benefit. For our students that plan to go to college, they are certainly being expected to manage a more collegiate schedule and work ethic.”

Battling the Pandemic

Villasana teaches at Muriel Williams Battle High School in Columbia, Missouri, a public high school built in 2013. Columbia is Missouri’s fourth most-populous and fastest growing city—its population growth was well over 20 percent between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Because of this rapid growth, the city passed a $120 million bond issue in April 2010, partially to fund the new high school, Battle. The school is situated in a 300,000-square-foot facility and serves students in grades 9–12.

To cope with the coronavirus pandemic, Villasana says her school district just announced a three-tier plan for students this fall, including 1) all-virtual 2) hybrid two days in-class, three days virtual and 3) 100-percent in-seat.

“For secondary students, we’ve typically used an 8-period A/B block structure,” Villasana says. “This year we’re utilizing a 4×4 block based on semester, so students—and teachers—will only be managing four courses each semester. We’ll be using masks in addition to cleaning and social distancing. Our district has done a good job of prioritizing student mental health and family safety nets.”

 

Civility and Inclusivity

Diversity and inclusion are trends that Villasana hopes will influence social studies teachers of today and tomorrow. “I love that we are really focusing right now on an inclusive approach to social studies, trying to help all students see themselves and diverse perspectives in history and contemporary social studies,” Villasana says. “I think teachers are working hard to consider the viewpoints they are sharing with their students and working hard to facilitate development of civil discourse in their classroom communities.”

Villasana says she wants students to remember her class because it helped them understand the importance of taking civic action in their communities. “I hope something about their experience will remind them to register to vote when they are 18,” she says, “to educate themselves using reliable information, and to cast ballots in all elections.”

Teacher Spotlight for May 2020 #2 (Kim Ball from Bountiful, Utah)

Gabe Fleisher

Name: Kim Ball
Title: Teacher
School Name: Bountiful High School
City, State: Bountiful, Utah
Subjects Taught: AP Comparative Government, AP U.S. Government, U.S. Government, Film History and Study Skills (which is a credit recovery class)
Grades Taught: 10-12, but mostly 12
No. of Years Teaching: 17 years

Nestled at the base of the majestic, snow-capped mountains of the Wasatch Range, the city of Bountiful, Utah, serves as a suburb of Salt Lake City and is home to Bountiful High School, where Kim Ball teaches AP U.S. Government and other subjects to 10th, 11th and 12th graders. Ball, who has 17 years of teaching experience, says teaching with a distance-learning format during the COVID-19 pandemic has required her to quickly adapt.

“The reason that I love teaching is I love the interaction I have with students in the classroom,” Ball says. “I like the human connection. However, I have been impressed with the technology that gives us the ability to connect with students remotely.”

Long-Distance Relationship

For her classes, Ball relies on Instructure’s popular learning management system, Canvas, where she uploads videos, audio files and PowerPoint presentations, along with other content. “I try to employ a variety of teaching methods and activities to help all of the different learners in my class,” Ball says.

For weekly videoconferencing with her students, she uses Zoom. Although Bountiful High School does not have a 1:1 learning environment, most students bring their own devices, Ball says, and all students are given the opportunity to check out a Cloudbook from the school.

 

Paperless, Please

Ball has been using the SGAP Student Forum newsletter and other civics materials in her classroom since 2011. Although she used to receive the monthly paper mailings, in 2018, Ball voluntarily switched to paperless in order to save paper. Now she relies solely on the SGAP e-newsletter, which is emailed to enrolled teachers four times a semester, or eight times a year.

“I love the paperless version of the SGAP newsletter,” Ball says. “Each of the issues in the SGAP newsletter relates to policy that is looking to be made, has been made and needs changing, or in some way impacts policy. I select six to 10 of the issues and then divide my classes into groups of about four students and have them answer questions relating to their issue and policy.”

 

In the Legislative Loop

Ball says she likes the pro/con format of the Student Forum newsletter because it helps students make more educated assessments of current legislative issues. This is especially important, she believes, in today’s world of politics.

“The way my students get information is totally different than what I am used to and what their parents and grandparents have done,” Ball says. “Our sources have been TV, radio and newspaper. My students today get their news through social media. I think it is important to help them navigate through this and teach them how to evaluate different sources.

Ultimately, Ball wants her students to remember that they mattered in her class. “I also want them to remember they should educate themselves and vote,” Ball adds. “One person can and does make a difference.”

SGAP Teacher Spotlight May 2020 (Paul Martin, Friend, Nebraska)

Paul Martin

Vital Stats

Name: Paul Martin
Title:  Social Studies Teacher
School Name: Friend Public School
City, State: Friend, Nebraska
Subject(s) Taught: Geography, American History, World History, American Government, Sociology
Grade(s)Taught: 7th – 12th grade
No. of Years Teaching: 32 years 

The coronavirus pandemic has changed Americans’ lives dramatically, and one profession greatly affected by these changes is teaching. Like so many teachers today, Paul Martin has had to quickly shift from in-person teaching to a distance-learning format for his classes due to school closures where he teaches.

Going the Distance

Martin teaches American Government and other subjects to 7th through 12th graders at Friend Public School in Friend, Nebraska. Located thirty miles west of Lincoln, Nebraska, Friend is a small town with a population of around 1,000. Fortunately, the school has enough Chromebooks and tablets to cover most of the students and nearly all students have internet connections at home, save for one or two. 

“This was my first day to use distance learning to connect with my students during this time of school closures,” Martin says. “The challenge will be getting comfortable delivering good, meaningful lessons to the students online. I am glad to at least be meeting with my students and I sense they are happy to have that connection as well.” 

Like many teachers across the nation, Martin has not had much experience teaching online and the sudden switch in format has required him to be nimble. “I do feel that I am learning some good ideas and I’m having to adapt and be stretched each day that I am not able to meet face-to-face with the students,” he says. “It can be challenging to keep up with the new and quickly changing technologies.” 

Technology also offers good learning opportunities as well, he says. “Using new technologies will provide social studies teachers with new avenues for instruction,” Martin says. “It is important to provide our students with opportunities that will prepare them for our ever-changing world.” 

Thank You for Being in Friend

Teaching in a small community such as the city of Friend, Nebraska, was not what Martin pictured for his life. After all, he grew up attending one of the largest high schools in Nebraska. “Now I find myself teaching in one of the smaller schools in our state,” Martin says. “While course offerings may be limited, the opportunities for students to be involved in extra-curricular and other school groups are great. I have really come to enjoy living in this community and teaching at the Friend Public School.” 

Martin’s philosophy of teaching is that learning is a lifelong process. “It is also important that students develop the skills and understanding that will help prepare them to be good citizens who are able to make positive contributions to the community,” he adds. 

For the last eight years, Martin has used the SGAP program in his American Government classes. “I appreciate the timely topics and discussions SGAP generates,” he says. “Using SGAP in my classroom can really bring to life the concepts I am teaching and helps the students make important learning connections.” 

What Martin hopes his students remember about his class is that he cares for them first and foremost. “I also want each one of my students to know they have the potential to make a positive difference in society and the lives of others,” Martin says. “I want them to have an appreciation for our great nation and know that they can have a voice in our government.”

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for October 2019 (Amber Hale, Evansville, IN)

Amber Hale

Vital Stats

Name: Amber Hale
Title: Social Studies Teacher
School Name: F.J. Reitz High School
City, State: Evansville, IN
Subject(s) Taught: Government and Economics
Grade(s)Taught: 12
No. of Years Teaching: 20

 

Although Amber Hale’s teaching career spans 20 years, this social studies teacher is in tune with today’s trends. She understands that technology is changing the way the education system works and embraces these changes. “Technology has greatly changed teaching for the better, and I believe it will continue to do so,” Hale says.

Hale uses the SGAP program to teach Government and Economics to her 12th grade students at F.J. Reitz High School, a public school in Evansville, Indiana. The school is a member of the third largest school district in the state—a district that places special emphasis on technology.

1:1 Technology Initiative

To ensure all students have the same access to technology and the tools they will in the 21st centurythe district implemented a one-to-one initiative, providing all high school students their own take-home computer.

“Due to the one-to-one initiative, students can now research and find information that is current and relevant on a daily basis,” Hale says. “We can explore so much more material because it is at our fingertips. We use our Chromebooks every day.”

In addition to student devices, all classrooms are equipped with Activeboard and Activesound technology to support teaching and learning.

“Because our classroom is online, students have access to materials, video and links that I post, and they submit online as well,” Hale says. “This allows for more in-depth learning and instruction. This is also nice for when they have to miss class due to a field trip, etc.”

 

Timely and Timeless

Despite teaching in an environment supported by today’s technology, Hale’s approach to classroom management remains timeless. “As for classroom management, I try to use the Golden Rule,” she says. “I treat them with kindness and respect, and I expect it in return.”

She says her teaching philosophy centers on the principles of student empowerment. “Every child has different strengths and should be encouraged to explore them,” Hale says. “One day, they will be the ones handed the reigns to our great country. We need to prepare them to be educated decision makers and active citizens.”

 

Current and Future

As an educator who has used the SGAP program in her classes for several years, Hale believes in the power of engaging students in classroom discussions using current events. She says staying current on the news and current events is a tough but rewarding part of her job.

“It is imperative to always present multiple perspectives and let the kids discuss their ideas and opinions in an educated, controlled environment,” Hale says. “Trying to tie real life into my classroom is very important to me so that the students ‘buy in.’”

In the future, Hale hopes her students leave her classroom knowing that she genuinely cares about them and about the subjects she teaches.

“I had a veteran teacher tell me once, ‘The most important thing a child leaves your classroom with is their ego,’ and it has always stuck in my mind,” she says. “It does not do anyone any good to embarrass students or tear them down.” 

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for September 2019 (Erin Le Francois, Mammoth Lakes, CA)

Erin Le Francois

Vital Stats

Name: Erin Le Francois
Title: Department Head, Teacher
School Name: Mammoth High School
City, State: Mammoth Lakes, CA
Subject(s) Taught: American Gov’t, US History, AP US, AP Gov’t/Politics and AP Comparative Politics
Grade(s )Taught: 11/12
No. of Years Teaching: 26

Twenty-six years ago, Erin Le Francois began her career as an educator and—for the past 20 years—she’s used SGAP in her classroom. “A parent mentioned the SGAP program to me, and I signed up,” she says. “In my government classes, we discuss current events every Friday.”

Go Tell it on the Mountain

Today, Le Francois serves as a social studies teacher and department head at a four-year public high school in Mammoth Lakes, California. The mountain resort community is home to Mammoth Mountain, the West Coast’s largest ski area. Situated in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mammoth Lakes is about 164 miles south of Reno, Nevada, and 325 miles north of Los Angeles.

In her classes at Mammoth High School, Le Francois uses SGAP in a variety of ways. “Sometimes we just read the Student Forum newsletter topics and discuss,” she explains. “Sometimes we will use the discussion questions. Recently, we’ve been incorporating further in-depth study online with the resources provided.”

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

As an educator with more than two decades of teaching experience, Le Francois has learned to focus on the essentials in her approach to classroom management. “In my classes I have one rule: respect,” Le Francois says. “We build from there. As long as everyone is respectful, we can have open dialogue and trust.”

Respecting others is especially important in today’s polarized political climate. “Government has been interesting to teach these past few years,” Le Francois admits. “I always work to present an unbiased version of things, but for me this has gotten more challenging as I get older.”

The Way We Were

Technology has presented both challenges and opportunities to social studies teachers, Le Francois says. “Social media and media in general are changing so fast that I feel these will influence all teachers,” she adds. “Cell phones are another trend that has impacted teaching. Getting students to interact and discuss topical issues is always challenging.”

Le Francois says what she wants her students to remember most about her class is the importance of asking questions and thinking critically.

“I want students to remember to think before they make a snap judgement, that people are innocent until proven guilty,” she says. “I want them to remember to treat people equally and not rush to judge. Be kind, help others and give back to the community that raised you.”

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for October 2018 (Stephanie Cooper, Boyd, TX)

Stephanie Cooper

Name:  Stephanie Cooper
Title: Teacher, Social Studies Department Team Leader
School Name: Boyd High School
City, State: Boyd, TX
Subject(s) Taught: U.S. Government, Economics, Sociology, Psychology, and Junior/Senior Seminar
Grade(s) Taught: 10th, 11th and 12th grades
No. of Years Teaching: 10 years
Honors: 2008 James Madison Fellow for the State of Oklahoma; Oklahoma Governor’s Commendation; Durant High Teacher of the Year (2005 and 2007); United States Air Force Veteran

 

In the large state of Texas lies a small town named Boyd, located about 30 miles northwest from the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, where Stephanie Cooper teaches social studies classes at the town’s public high school.

Cooper, who also serves as team leader of the social studies department, says her greatest teaching challenge is bringing to light the importance of social studies in an educational climate where schools prioritize the STEM subjects.

I think the greatest challenge is that emphasis in schools is placed on state-tested subjects such as math, science and English,” Cooper says. “The way our government works is vital knowledge for soon-to-be voting citizens, but I think it takes a back seat to math and science now.”

Why Active Citizenry Matters

Cooper says not placing an importance on teaching U.S. Government has far-reaching effects on the fabric of American society. “The effects I see, and have seen for quite some time, are low participation in voting by young people, not knowing how basic federal, state, and local government works, and no appreciation for how our Constitution came to be,” she says.

As a military veteran of the United States Air Force, Cooper says her experience serving her country has significantly influenced her teaching. “My experience in the U.S. Air Force has caused me to focus on the subject of U.S. Government and to make sure young people know the sacrifices that have come before them,” she says.

 

Spotlighting Social Studies

To bring to light the importance of social studies, Cooper believes social studies educators must keep finding new ways to educate youth. “Make sure to use opportunities such as Patriot Day, Constitution Day, and Freedom Week to put history and our country in the forefront,” she adds.

Cooper has also seen a rise in students’ interest in active participation as a result of school shootings such as the one in Parkland, Florida. “Young people are beginning to become more involved, largely because of school policies and dangers they now face in schools,” she says. “Students are nearly forced to participate in politics and government because their security and safety are on the line.”

“In fact, their future in general depends on how much they know about their government, and how much they participate,” Cooper continues. “There is a very real opportunity for young people to make their mark and lead in the way in how the United States government runs.”

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for September 2018 (Jill Anne Hahn, Evansville, IN)

Jill Hahn

Name:  Jill Anne Hahn
Title: Coordinator of Randall T. Shepard Leadership and Law Academy; Secondary High School Teacher at Evansville Harrison High School
School Name: Evansville Harrison High School and Randall T. Shepard Leadership and Law Academy
City, State: Evansville, Indiana
Subject(s) Taught: CAP Government, CAP Economics, We The People Constitutional Law course, Economics, Government, International Relations and Current Events
Grade(s) Taught: Seniors
No. of Years Teaching: 29 years
Honors: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Economic Educator Advisory Board; Indiana Council of Social Studies award: Stan Harris Social Studies Citizen Award; Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year Award from the National Guard; Leadership Evansville Professional Education Leadership Nominee; Olin B. Davis Exemplary Teaching of Economics Award; Randall T. Shepard iCivics Outstanding Teacher in Vanderburgh Co.; Indiana Supreme Court Award; Senator Lugar Symposium, Guest speaker on Nuclear Armament, Evansville Courier Press Outstanding Educator Nominee, Indiana Government Teacher of the Year presented by Senator Lugar

As an educator who serves in dual roles – a social studies teacher at a public high school and a program coordinator for a four-year college preparatory school – Jill Anne Hahn is one busy education professional. Her long list of honors and awards is a reflection of her commitment to excellence in education.

Hahn believes Government and Economics are two of the most important subjects that will affect students’ daily lives, now and in the future.

“My teaching philosophy is to educate all of my students by bringing the outside world into the classroom,” Hahn says. “By studying current events plus international relations, students can actually see how the outside world impacts them.”

One way Hahn teaches her students about current events is through the SGAP program. “I love SGAP and have been using it for 20 years,” Hahn says. “I feel that the future of our students looks extremely bright thanks to all the tools we have to teach them such as SGAP.”

 

Living to Give

Hahn’s philosophy doesn’t only focus on how the external world impacts students, but also how students’ internal landscapes impact the external world.

“I am big on giving of one’s self,” Hahn says. “Each student is required to give 10 hours of their semester to service learning, as part of their civic duty as Americans. I’m amazed at how many students come back years later and tell me their volunteer service inspired a career or they continued giving of themselves.”

This reminder to give back is much-needed in today’s fast-paced society. “Students have so many outside distractions in today’s world, whether it be too much social media, or issues at home,” Hahn says. “My role has changed over the years from just being a teacher and now also includes being a student advocate.”

 

Rolling with the Changes

In her 29 years of teaching, Hahn has witnessed many changes in the field of education, including those inspired by technology. A benefit of today’s technology is social media, Hahn says, because it has enabled her to stay in touch with her former students.

“Students remind me of what I taught them and many times we have civic discussion over various matters,” she says. “Often, I remind them that they must continue what I taught them because, after all, they are my legacies.”             

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for May 2018 (Jill Auten, Edmond, OK)

Jill Auten

Name: Jill Auten
School Name: Deer Creek High School
City, State: Edmond, OK
Subjects Taught: Government and Personal Finance (presently); World History, Oklahoma History, U.S. History (previously)
Grades Taught: 12th grade (presently); 8th and 9th grades (previously)
No. of Years Teaching: 6.5
Honors: Governor’s Volunteer Award 2014; Teacher of the Month May 2017; Teacher of the Year Nominee 2015 and 2017

 

With a background in teaching history of all kinds – world history, U.S. history and Oklahoma state history – Jill Auten currently teaches Government and Personal Finance to 12th graders at a public high school in Edmond, Oklahoma.

She enjoys educating her students on the practical application of civics. “To encourage civic engagement, I created voter registration packets for my school’s seniors to receive on their 18th birthday,” Auten says.

Transformative Teaching

Having co-authored research papers on subjects such as the role of instructional design in transformative learning, Auten works to apply those theories in her approach to classroom management and teaching philosophy.

“My goal as an educator is to provide learning in such a manner that students are prepared for life after graduation,” Auten says. “I model behaviors I hope they will emulate and teach them skills – manners, respect for the environment, respect for others, civic duty, etc. – that are vital to their long-term success. I believe students will seek to reach the high bar I have set for them as I communicate my belief in their ability to succeed.” 

Diversity Doctrine

In her Government class, Auten says she strives to teach diversity – meaning diversity of thought, experiences and expectations, she says. “I purposefully guide dynamic conversations in Government as students hear a variety of differing opinions,” Auten adds. “I feel this aids the students in developing critical-thinking skills while also learning to value the concerns of others with differing viewpoints, especially those with vastly different points of view.”

While her focus on diversity is apparent in her teaching philosophy, Auten says she is still challenged by fake news stories. “It may be a tired subject, but fake news and other non-empirical material is still prolific today,” she says. “I want students to decide for themselves their stance on issues from factual information rather than biased information.”

Auten hopes that her students look back on her class as a meaningful learning experience. “I hope my students will remember to be open-minded – withhold snap judgment – and that they will be lifelong learners. I hope that they will revere other cultures, practice civic participation, and be inquisitive about the world they encounter.”

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for April 2018 (Greg Baird, Murrieta, CA)

Greg Baird

Vital Stats

Name: Greg Baird
School Name: Murrieta Valley High School
City, State: Murrieta, CA
Subjects Taught: Modern World History, U.S. Government
Grades Taught: 10, 12
No. of Years Teaching: 29

As a teacher with 29 years of teaching experience, Greg Baird has spent 28 of those years teaching students at Murrieta Valley High School (MVHS) in Murrieta, California. MVHS is a four-year comprehensive public school that has been named a California Distinguished School awardee and is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Baird began teaching at MVHS in 1990, the year the public school was founded – indeed, Baird says he was the first teacher hired there!

“I’m proud to be associated with the excellent teachers in my school, district, state and nation,” Baird says. “All teachers have a tremendous impact on their students for their entire lives.” Today, Baird teaches Modern World History and U.S. Government to sophomore and senior high school students in addition to serving as Chairman of the school’s History Social Science Department. “History and Social Science teachers deal with the essential issue of people forming communities,” Baird says. “This is why our classes are so important in understanding the past and helping to forge the future.”

Modern Problems

As a social studies educator at a public high school, Baird says Common Core standards are definitely changing the way History and Social Science classes are taught. “It’s not so much about the learning all the facts, but being able to analyze information and communicate clearly.”

Since his Modern World History class covers hundreds of years, Baird says he doesn’t expect students to remember all the facts. “However, I hope that students can relate to characters from the past and see them as human beings who had to make tough decisions just like us,” he adds.

Baird says his greatest challenge is battling bias, whether in the media or in the classroom. “Politics in our country is very polarized right now, and many students get caught up in the rhetoric,” Baird says. “They have a hard time seeing issues and individuals from another point of view.”

Positive, Not Punitive

Baird says his teaching philosophy is founded on a positive classroom management strategy, with the goal of responding to students in positive rather than punitive ways. “Students who are engaged in the lesson rarely cause behavior problems,” Baird says. “I strive to cultivate positive relationships with my students, and create interesting lesson plans that challenge students. This tends to keep the kids learning and out of trouble.

What does Baird hope students remember about him and his class? “Most students will not remember all of the checks and balances, but I hope to prepare all my students to be productive and informed citizens,” Baird says. “And I hope they remember me as a caring adult.”

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for March 2018 (David Weikel of Chattanooga, TN)

David Weikel

Vital Stats

Name: David Weikel
School Name: Notre Dame High School
City, State: Chattanooga, TN
Subject(s) Taught: Civics, AP Government and Politics, Public Speaking
Grade(s) Taught: 9, 11 and 12
No. of Years Teaching: 14
Honors: Board of Directors for Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, Chattanooga Chapter

As an educator for grades 9, 11 and 12 at Notre Dame High School – a Roman Catholic college preparatory school in Chattanooga, Tennessee – David Weikel says he devotes much of his time to teaching Civics and AP Government and Politics. Although he has 14 years of teaching experience, this is his first year teaching AP Government and Politics. “This is a particularly eventful time to be teaching government to students,” Weikel says. “And that will probably continue for some time. My teaching philosophy is to make learning fun while still getting the message across to my students.”

Encouraging Active Citizenry

Weikel’s approach to managing his classroom is seasoned and reflects his nearly 15 years’ experience in teaching. “My students do not have assigned seats, nor do they have to ask to go to the bathroom. These freedoms cause them to feel more like adults and they perform better than if they were treated like children.” Although flexible in his teaching style, Weikel’s firm commitment to educating students about the importance of active citizenry is evident. He says he uses the SGAP program in his AP classes to engage students in discussion about current events in government and politics. “In large part due to SGAP, I was able to get 42 new students to register as first-time voters in the fall,” Weikel says. “Many of my students will be eligible to vote for their first time and they want to be part of the solution.”

Teacher’s Takeaway

What’s the one thing Weikel hopes students will remember about his AP Government and Politics class? “The takeaway from my class that I want students to remember is to vote in all elections,” he says. “And that’s not just the national ones, but voting at every level and despite who’s running.” Looking ahead, what does Weikel think social studies teachers should focus on? “In the future, we social studies teachers need to continue to teach these issues to our students,” Weikel says. “We need to ingrain in them that they are the future leaders of our nation.”