Eisenhower educator recognized for historic teaching
Dec 08, 2016 01:51PM
● By Tori LaRue
Jennifer Kesler, a history teacher at Eisenhower Junior High, poses with a trophy after the Utah Council for the Social Studies named her the Secondary Teacher of the Year at their mid-October conference.
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By Tori La Rue | [email protected]
The Utah Council for the Social Studies named Eisenhower Junior High teacher Jennifer Kesler the 2016 Secondary Teacher of the Year during its mid-October conference.
“I found out I’d received the award only a few days before they were to announce it at the annual conference,” Kesler said. “Oftentimes, teachers aren’t recognized, so it felt really nice to win the award, but I was surprised.”
Principal Mark Ellermeier said the award did not come as a shock to him. Although he doesn’t know who nominated Kesler for the award, he said it could have come from anyone because she’s well-deserving and liked by the administration, faculty, staff, parents and students.
“She’s created a friendly learning environment for the kids,” Ellermeier said. “She is just a team player, so anything we ask Jenny to do, she does—great asset to Eisenhower Junior High. As a principal, we are glad to have her.”
Kesler’s been at Eisenhower Junior High for eight years where she teaches eighth grade U.S. History and advises the student government. She said she always knew she wanted to be a history teacher because she had a love for historic stories and wanted to help others gain the passion she found.
U.S. History is a versatile subject, she said, teaching students not only what happened and when but helping them discover why. In history class, students learn not only about happenings in the nation and world but about how to be an adult and participate in the democratic process, she said.
“They are at that age where they are still learning new things about history. They learned a little in elementary school, but this is the first time they are really diving in,” Kesler said. “They are not yet like adults who have grown jaded and bitter, so they are willing to see new perspectives.”
Unlike their exposure to history before middle school, Kesler’s students learn that history is full of complex characters not just “clear-cut good and bad guys,” she said.
The topics Kesler said her students seem to like the most are social justice issues, including the Civil War and slavery, and women’s rights.
“They get into these subjects more than issues of the economy and government because justice issues are more emotional, and they can feel what is right and wrong,” she said.
To help students relate to what they are learning, Kesler focuses their study on primary sources, so the students can get inside people’s heads and find out why they did the things that they did and why they believed the things they believed.
Kesler gives her students projects to aid the development of critical-thinking skills. One of her favorite projects is the National History Day Contest, which invites students to create web, performance, documentary, report or exhibition projects based on an annual theme. The projects are then adjudicated at the school, region, state and national level.
Last year, four girls in one of Kesler’s classes created a project about the Chicago World’s Fair that placed at school and region and went on to the state competition.
“They were the first group from Eisenhower to ever get that far,” Kesler said. “It was amazing to watch their success.”
Teaching middle school can be challenging because the students are at a tough spot in their lives where they are learning to grow up, but Kesler said the benefits outweigh the costs.
“Once you can relate to them, it becomes easier to understand where they are coming from,” she said. “They are full of energy, they make you laugh and they surprise you with the insights and questions that they ask. That’s why I keep coming back here and why I keep teaching.”