Teacher Spotlights

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.”

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for February 2018 (Dan Cappleman of Albuquerque, NM)

Dan Cappleman

Vital Stats

Name: Dan Cappleman
School Name: St. Pius X High School
City, State: Albuquerque, NM
Subjects Taught: American Government and Economics; AP U.S. Government and Politics
Grade Taught: 12th Grade
No. of Years Teaching: 21 years
Honors: St. Pius X High School Teacher of the Year 2002; nominated for Golden Apple 2007  

As a twelfth grade educator who works with college-bound seniors at a Catholic high school in Albuquerque, Dan Cappleman says he loves teaching. “It has been a privilege and a blessing to teach at a school where I can also practice and model my faith,” he says. “Teaching is actually my second career.”

A Proverbial Philosophy

Cappleman says his teaching philosophy could be summed up with one proverb: The teacher opens the door; we enter by ourselves. “I share this saying with my students on day one,” Cappleman says. “I tell them I pledge to always do my part – to provide the tools and leadership. But students know they must take responsibility to develop the self-discipline and self-direction that is vital to success in college and beyond.”

Cappleman says a typical day in his classroom asks students to take notes, read, quiz their knowledge through essays and tests – in addition to discussion of current events – plus hands-on and experiential learning through problem solving simulations, moot court, student congress and mock trials.

“Demonstrate to students that you love what you are doing, that your presence is no accident, that you care about them as people and want them to grow and succeed,” Cappleman adds.

Teachers and Technology

A teacher with 21 years of experience as an educator, Cappleman says his greatest challenges have to do with technology and its influence on today’s students. “Technology and social media are distracting students from the importance of the principles in the founding documents,” Cappleman says. “Too much misinformation is present on social media. Society as a whole – not just students – spends an ever-increasing amount of their day absorbed in the ‘social’ aspect of social media.

This distracts us from subjects of vital, lasting importance, including the constitutional principles of the founding documents.” “My favorite quote from Chief Justice John Marshall is, ‘The peculiar circumstances of the moment may render a measure more or less wise, but cannot render it more or less constitutional,’” he says. However, Cappleman believes there are benefits to technology as well as detriments.

“Technology enhances the teacher’s ability to expose students to resources such as primary source documents and activities,” he says. “These are positives to student learning and engagement.”

An Educator’s Best Advice

Cappleman believes technology will also influence future trends for teachers. “Technology will continue to accelerate and it will impact all teaching increasingly, for better or for worse,” he says. “But the challenge will remain the same.”

Now that Cappleman has spent more than two decades of his time teaching, what advice would he offer to a teacher about to embark on their own teaching career today? “Always be honest with students and walk the talk,” Cappleman says. “As I promote the need for good citizens to be informed and vote, I share my voting record so students know I really believe what I’m telling them.”

Be clear in your expectations, Cappleman advises. “Follow through, and students will respond positively,” he adds. “Show students you love the Republic. They will feel that and want to love it, too.”

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for October 2017: (Lori Dumerer of Carrollton, TX)

Lori Dumerer

Vital Stats
Name: Lori Dumerer
School Name: RL Turner High School
City, State: Carrollton, TX
Subjects Taught: AP US Government; AP Macroeconomics; AP US History; Pre-AP USH
Grades Taught: 12, 11
Years Teaching: 19+ Honors: Texas Council of Social Studies Secondary Teacher of the Year Award for 2002; a Humanities Teacher of the Year award in 2014 from Humanities Texas, an affiliate of National Endowment for the Humanities; Who’s Who in American Education and in the World

As a social studies educator with nearly 20 years of teaching experience, Lori Dumerer believes today’s political environment presents unique challenges to those who teach American History and U.S. Government.

“I have never before felt like I had to be so careful in explaining what is occurring in government,” says Dumerer, who teaches at a public high school in Carrollton, Texas. “I try to make public policy a focus of the course but I am discovering that articulation of a defined policy is not always clear.”

Fake News and the Federalist
Dumerer says one of her challenges is knowing how to answer students’ questions about fake news. “Students are asking why some politicians claim that news outlets are reporting ‘fake news’ when they can see the information is presented with evidence that can be verified,” she says. In response to students’ confusion about “inaccurate political messaging,” as Dumerer puts it, she has been lecturing and leading classroom discussion on the Federalist papers, particularly Nos. 47, 49 and 51.

“We have been examining how the system can keep extreme ideas in check,” she says. “To preserve democratic government, I have to subscribe to Madison’s ideas about factionalism laid out in Federalist No. 51.”

Dumerer believes it is critical to help students engage in civil discourse with one another. “My students must be able to respectfully disagree with another person who may hold opposing viewpoints,” she explains. “In my classes, students come to understand that they are free to express controversial views.”

Agreeing to Disagree
Before students’ first Socratic seminar, they practice using each other’s surname and acknowledging one another’s views, Dumerer say. “We practice respectfully disagreeing with one another and talk through how to diffuse confrontations in class,” she adds. “They must use evidence from documents to support their claims in speaking as well as in writing.”

To stir interest in U.S. government and civics, Dumerer looks for ‘trigger’ issues that she knows will spark student engagement. “I try very carefully to listen to what students’ concerns are and to incorporate some aspect of that issue into the class,” she says. “I do intentionally integrate humor where possible and find students pay more attention when they have been able to laugh at some aspect of the content.”

At the heart of Dumerer’s teaching philosophy is a desire to help students learn how to become active participants in society. “Our society gains immensely since knowledgeable students will help shape the direction government leans,” she says.

Trends of Tomorrow
Looking ahead, Dumerer says the trends that will most influence social studies teachers in the future are technology-related. “In schools across the country, teachers are asked to integrate technology in new ways so that students learn how to garner raw data and factual information to be used in real-time applications,” she says. “This necessitates teachers embracing a variety of applications and discovering meaningful uses.”

Dumerer also believes that social media will play a crucial role in education for both teachers and students. “Additionally, social studies education is likely to become more experiential, with opportunities such as internships or shadowing professionals the norm rather than the exception.”

After dedicating so many years of her life to teaching, what does Dumerer hope to leave as her legacy to her students? “I hope that years after leaving my class, my students will remember three points,” she says. “First, our government works because we participate; second, success is earned through failure; and third, we should practice tolerance.”

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for November 2017 (Eric Lind of Ault, CO)

Eric Lind

Vital Stats

Name: Eric Lind
School Name: Highland High School
City, State: Ault, Colorado
Subjects Taught: Civil Government and U.S. History
Grades Taught: 11 and 12
Years Teaching: 7
Honors: 2016 and 2017 Girls Track and Field Mile High League Coach of the Year

What is your philosophy about teaching American History and Government?
“My philosophy in teaching American History and Government is to make as many real world connections to the past as possible. If you can help students understand that history is not just memorizing people and dates but understanding cause and effect relationships, you can teach skills that students take with them for the rest of their lives.”

How do you stir interest in the subject of American History and U.S. Government among students?

“Not every student loves history. In fact, many dread the topic. As a teacher, I try to make each day different from the previous day so that students stay engaged. While we do repeat skills and activities, I believe adjusting the setting in which the task is completed helps with engagement among students.”

Why it is so important for your students to understand the critical role they can play in our country’s political system?

“Many times students enter a history or civics class anticipating that they will just learn about things that have happened in the past or people who have died long ago. It is my goal to make them realize that learning about the past can help them understand the current conditions that they live in today, as well as make predictions for what the future holds.”

What trends/issues do you think may influence social studies teachers in the future?

“Understanding the concepts of federalism and the impact of globalization will be key topics for teachers to tackle in the ever-changing world we live in today and going forward.”

What would your students say they had learned after spending a year in your class?

“I hope that students leave my class at the end of each year with a better understanding of how we have become the country that we live in today through a cause and effect understanding of history. Also, I hope they better understand the tools they possess as citizens in our government structure and aspire to be a more active participant as they grow older.”    

SGAP Teacher Spotlight for Dec. 2017 (Kevin Cline of Frankton, IN)

Kevin Cline

Name: Kevin M. Cline
School Name: Frankton High School
City, State: Frankton, IN
Subjects Taught: U.S. History, U.S. Government, Dual Credit Government
Grades Taught: 11-12
Years Teaching: 13
Honors: Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s 2016 National History Teacher of the Year; 2012 American Civic Education Teaching Award (ACETA) Recipient 

What is your philosophy about teaching your subject?
“I love teaching both U.S. History and Government because these classes afford us the chance to encourage the kind of critical thinking that is so necessary now. I am a firm believer in active citizenship. Young people must leave their secondary educational experience with a strong understanding of their responsibilities as citizens, and the ways in which individual action or inaction can impact their community and country.”  

How do you stir interest in the subject among students?
“Interest comes through interaction. History and government are far from static subjects, designed to be studied through a textbook. Students interact with the voices of the past through primary sources, work through simulations designed to put them into the events and situations we study, and meet their elected officials and experts in the field. These experiences always foster the best thinking, the best discussion, and the best questions.”  

Why it is so important for today’s students to understand they have a voice in the political system?
“This is true not just for students, but for all Americans. After decades of extraordinarily low voter turnout, it seems clear that our country is facing an epidemic of apathy. Few of our Founders agreed on everything, but they were able to achieve compromise on most issues after engaging in significant dialogue. These kinds of conversations aren’t happening enough. Thus the challenge before history and government teachers is to offer students a chance to engage in thoughtful and informed deliberation.”

What trends/issues do you think may influence social studies teachers in the future?
“Social studies education continues to be negated to the back burner. Yet our classrooms are the ideal place for the kind of growth we need as a citizenry. Not in forcing students to believe one way or the other, but in facilitating their growth as active, free-thinking, informed citizens who can engage in critical thinking and dialogue.”  

What would your students say they had learned after spending a year in your class?
“If a student can leave my class with a stronger ability to deliberate, an appreciation for multiple perspectives, and a willingness to engage in productive and respectful dialogue, then I am happy. That is the end goal – to help students grow into people who can do their part in doing some good.”