Jaclyn Kopel (1st Quarter, 2008)

1st Quarter, 2008
Teacher Scholarship Winner
Jaclyn Kopel

“I’m a junior at Pace University in New York City. My major is Adolescent Education and History. I student teach at a local high school. I also work for the University as an Orientation Test Proctor and a Teaching Assistant. In addition, I teach for the University’s Center of Urban Education Upward Bound program. Currently I am serving as the President of the University’s Kappa Delta Pi chapter and my cumulative GPA is a 4.0. I hope to get a job as a high school history teacher in the New York City Public School System. It is my desire to be able to give back to the system that gave so much to me. I am currently enjoying watching my students grow, learn, and become inspired by history.”

A Portion of Jaclyn’s Winning Essay:

Jaclyn Kopel

The Time Traveler — Why I want to be a history teacher Imagine you are walking home one night when suddenly you notice some flashing lights down a dark alley. Inexplicably, you are drawn to them and proceed down the alley only to discover an incredibly fascinating machine bearing the label “Time Machine.” What an amazing world of possibilities lays before you. However, where would you go, whom would you meet, what year would you visit, and how would you know how to operate the machine and make sense of it all? You need a guide.

Stepping out from the shadows I introduce myself. I am the Time Traveler and I am here to take you on the incredibly exhilarating journey through history. As a history teacher it will be my pleasure to guide students on the exciting journey through time to discover the contributions of various civilizations and cultures, the birth of our nation, the ways in which the past determines the present and shapes the future, and how history influences the world and our place in it.

My love of history began at an early age under the tutelage of my mother. We live in Lower Manhattan and as we would walk through the streets she would encourage me to listen to the voices of the past. Walking up Broad Street approaching Wall Street, she would tell me to close my eyes and feel the cool shadow of the Buttonwood tree and then listen for the sounds of the men trading cotton and cocoa. I would then open my eyes and see before me the majestic building with large white columns, the New York Stock Exchange. It stands there today because over 200 years ago it was the site of that famous tree where men would stand and trade commodities.

A glimpse ahead of us would reveal the statue of George Washington standing proudly in front of Federal Hall. The statue and the building are still here today as a testament to the importance of the past and the significance of the moment that our first president was sworn into office. Climbing up the stone steps into Federal Hall we are granted passage back in time.

A film recreates the days, times and events of the past, including the trial of John Peter Zenger. My mother would be sure at that point to explain the importance of journalism and freedom of speech. We would then walk to Pearl Street and Stone Street where a brass plaque marks the site of Zenger’s printing shop.

No matter where we walked or what we saw she was always certain to explain all aspects of the historical significance, making sure to make sense of it all and make connections to the present. In her presence, history came alive for me and it was the gift of time travel. Teaching history will be about sharing the gift of time travel and the excitement of unearthing the past while demonstrating how it relates to the present.

Earlier, I referred to myself as the Time Traveler and that is because learning history has transformed me and now I want to transform my students. In Why We Teach there is a chapter written by Ambrizeth Lima entitled, Teaching as a Spiritual Journey. Ms. Lima’s words best describe my hopes with respect to teaching history. She writes, “But it is also a mission with a tangible goal: I teach because teaching transforms my students, and it transforms me” (89).

My goal is to transform students into critical thinkers. Utilizing their knowledge of history to improve their judgment and make better decisions. It is often said that you learn from your mistakes, therefore examining mistakes of the past should help students to correct them in the present and avoid them in the future. History is filled with important lessons to be learned and a successful journey will open the eyes not only of the students but of their teacher as well.

In an unassigned chapter from the book, Teaching From the Deep End, much to my surprise I discovered a small section entitled, “Teacher as ‘Traveler’.” At first the coincidence and similarity to my already written first two paragraphs terrified me, but then I decided to learn from it.

All of our reading supports the fact that teaching is a journey, so is history. Learning about history will transform my students by taking them on a journey that will provide them with a sense of self. However, we will be taking that journey together and as they learn so will I.

As Dominic Belmonte writes in Teaching From the Deep End, “The journey is a discovery of self in the company of others… The traveler must learn all he or she can, including the wisdom that learning about the journey never ceases…The traveler plans a lesson but is not slavishly devoted to the lesson to the exclusion of what is newly discovered along the way” (28). This means that as my students absorb my enthusiasm for the subject of history and engage in a lively debate I should encourage them and then explore their opinions and new perspectives.

If for example we are discussing the birth of our nation and the American Revolution and some students question the true altruism of the Founding Fathers it would be a perfect time to deviate from the textbook and read, The Lies My Teacher Told Me, The History of Us and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

The true students of history should never take it all at face value and should constantly question and research. By doing so, they will engage in an important part of the learning process and initiate the journey of self-discovery. As students delve into the subject of history they will be transported back in time not only in our own country, but also to other countries and other civilizations. They will discover the influence these other countries, cultures and civilizations have had on our own.

Through the study of history they will discover their roots and their ancestors, which in turn will help them to understand themselves and others. The study of Ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the Chinese Dynasties should give them a newfound respect for the intelligence, creativity, dedication, resilience and hard work of the people who came before them.

Within these civilizations they may find a new sense of pride. Asian students might bask in the glory of the accomplishments of the various dynasties and the sheer awe of the Great Wall of China. Students of Greek heritage could take pride in the early philosophical thinkers and both Italian and Arabic students could boast of the architectural accomplishments of their ancestors. As their teacher, I would take the opportunity to utilize this boon to their identity and reinforce the message that they too can contribute to society and to history.

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