Embrace Your Inner “Teacher’s Pet”
I was invited to give the “keynote” address at last night’s National Honor Society Induction. This is what I had to say!
October 16, 2013
When Amanda Greenberg asked if I would be the faculty speaker at the NHS Induction, I think I surprised her when I said yes so quickly. This is a great opportunity to address so many excellent students, many of whom I taught last year or have in class this year. I was inducted into NHS as a high school student. So I say to all of you, congratulations on your induction into an organization that truly exemplifies the best characteristics we hope to see in all of our students. And congratulations to your parents as well…they should be so proud.
My instructions were to speak on one of the four pillars of the NHS…character, leadership, service, or scholarship. While service might seem like a natural fit for me, tonight I want to share a few words about scholarship.
I have been a student or a teacher longer than I’ve done almost anything else in my life. From the moment I entered the local Montessori School at age 3, through my 8 years in a Catholic grade school, four years at a public High School, four years at Yale, two years at Chinese University of Hong Kong, eight years at George Washington University, and now 12 years at Bullis, I have spent 41 years in academic institutions. That’s longer than my 19 year marriage, my 14 years as a mother, or the six years I have driven my Honda minivan. Combined.
Fortunately, I love learning and I love school. And, I have a sneaking suspicion that you do too.
So, how do we identify scholarship? I think of it as learning that goes beyond basic book knowledge or memorization. It is creative, fresh, and requires deep thinking. At Bullis, it looks exactly like like our National History Day research projects. Every year, I am blown away by the depth of scholarship that our students demonstrate. This last year was no exception. Brigid and Rachel dug through the records of the Salem Witch Trials and even travelled to Massachusetts to get a clear understanding of this turning point in Colonial History. Oriana interviewed her grandfather about his experiences during the Berlin Airlift. Brian tracked down several men who had integrated Baltimore Polytech back in the early 1950s. I’m so incredibly proud of how our students have done at the local, state, and National level. Since we began the program in 2009, we have had national finalists every single year…and in 2013 we had two. What an amazing accomplishment…especially considering that 500,000 students participate across the nation, and more than 2,000 compete at the National level. For our school to dominate four years running is truly a remarkable achievement, and a testament to the scholarship of our students, and not just those who garnered awards. All 160 Bullis students who participated last year demonstrated scholarly thinking and command of a historical topic.
As for me, I live vicariously through your NHD research and I always learn something new. I am truly happy when I am digging deep into a historical topic. In college, I was an American Studies major, which combined my love of history and literature. My research projects included a paper on the Mormon Women’s Relief Society. I grew up in near Palmyra NY, the birthplace of the Mormon church, so I had a fascination with this truly American religion. I flew to Salt Lake City and interviewed the President of the organization, as I sought to understand the role of women in a church that has only male leadership. For another class, I traveled to a tiny apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to search the archives of the Daughters of Bilitis, which was the first national organization for gay women. Keep in mind, I did this research in 1990, long before Gay and Lesbian rights had entered mainstream debate or we had a show called “Glee.” For a third class, I researched the process by which Yale College went coeducational. I was able to interview the former provost of the school, and used many documents at Sterling Memorial Library to help me understand the tensions over coeducation. This topic was near and dear to my heart, as I am fourth generation Yale graduate, but I was the first woman in my family to attend the college.
In graduate school, I read countless books and wrote many papers, but I was always most fascinated by the intersection of race and gender. I wrote my dissertation on the role of white women in the formation of 19th century Native American Policy. Ultimately, however, I decided that my heart was not in research as much as it was in teaching. My neighbor, Carol Conrad, who was at the time the Chair of the Social Studies Dept at Bullis, told me about an opening for a History teacher. I visited the school, interviewed for the position, and have been here ever since. While you all know me as a teacher, every summer I become a student once again as I participate in week-long institutes on topics as varied as Chicago Architecture, the history of the Colorado Gold Rush, and the development of the Adirondack State Park. I come back renewed and excited to share this scholarship with my students.
In my high school yearbook, there are several pages devoted to “Senior Superlatives.” I know this is a practice we follow at Bullis as well. Students pick their classmates in many categories, including “best smile,” “best dressed,” “class clown” or “most athletic.” My brother, who had three car wrecks before he graduated, was voted “demon driver.” I was voted “Teacher’s Pet.” I was not at all embarrassed by this selection. I embraced it, as you can tell by my big smile in this picture. I loved my school, I loved my classes, I loved my teachers, and I loved learning. The classroom has always been my favorite place to be.
So, I say to you, embrace your inner “Teacher’s Pet.” Find the joy in scholarship. Connect with your teachers at Bullis. Be that student who sits in the front row, contributes to class discussion, and lingers at the end of class to ask a question. For the juniors in the house, get excited about National History Day. Start researching your topic…tonight! As you go off to college, be passionate about your learning, and find ways to dig deep into archival documents or laboratory research. Take the tough classes, and try a class in a field that is totally new to you. And don’t let graduation mean the end of your learning…keep reading, visiting museums, and watching documentaries. And come back to see your teachers at Bullis and let us know what you know and how you’re going to use that scholarship to change the world.