I love watching people’s faces when I tell them what I do. Panic mixed with confusion, then followed by a look of vague concern when I say that I actually like teaching Jr. High.
The most common response is something like, “That’s such a hard age.”
And those people are right. Jr. Highers are awkward and enthusiastic, creative and tongue-tied. They are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in the world, while making it through the day without tripping on their shoelaces. As teachers, it is our job to give our students tools to find the answers to those problems.
I have the pleasure of teaching the 8th grade Honors American Republic class. We spend a lot of time in class working with primary sources. The students examine maps and paintings, official declarations and journal entries. I tell them that textbooks and encyclopedias are useful, but every historian has a bias and every history book edits the details. Ultimately, we must go back to the original source to find out what really happened. Don’t read an article about the colonial reaction to the Stamp Act when you can see the editorials they published in their own newspapers. Don’t watch the documentary if you can read Meriwether Lewis’ journal when he first saw the Pacific Ocean. Successful historians don’t blithely take anyone else’s opinion at face value. They research the facts and draw their own conclusions.
The same approach is necessary for the rest of life. If our students are going to define themselves and find their place in the world, they need to go back to the source. They need to ask the Person who made them why they are here. As I watch my students every day, I am struck by the myriad of talents and passions that fill the halls. God has created each of them to make an incredible impact with their lives. And He is the only source of truth to direct them. In history, we read George Washington’s Farewell Address to understand why he believed in the American Republic. To understand God’s plan for our lives, we need to read His letter to us. As He told Jeremiah, that plan is to give us a hope and a future.
I love history. By understanding how God has worked in the past, we can be better prepared for the future. I’m fascinated by the personalities and choices of those who came before us. I try to share a bit of that passion with my class every afternoon. But at the end of the day, my job is to point my students back to the Source. And make sure their shoes are tied.
Kirsten Swanson received her Bachelor degree in English Literature and History from Gordon College in Massachusetts, and her Masters in Medieval Studies from the University of York. She loves working at SVC because it allows her to actively show students God’s fingerprints on the leaders and creative minds of history.
You may reach Kirsten at email@example.com.