1760 Spotlight - Mark Stephens

Stephens_Portrait.jpg Current position(s) at GA: Middle School History Teacher, Assistant Director of the Academy Scholars Progam

Number of years overall at GA (including this year): 32

Why have you chosen to stay at GA? GA supports a close working relationship between faculty and students. This is very important to me. I can count on the administration to “look out for” the best interests of the school and its faculty; this frees me up so that I can live in the world of pedagogy, of wide-ranging education, and of my kids. I can work with, explore with, and become excited about learning with my students. Ideas can emerge that simply weren’t there before the discussions that we have. Strengths can be built. Ideals pursued…all because the school has created conditions in which teachers can do their best work.

GA has supported me in several professional efforts. The school has allowed me to work with national professional organizations and to pursue specific educational projects. I’ve traveled from coast to coast to present workshops and seminars as a GA teacher, taught college and post-grad courses as a GA teacher, held national leadership positions as a GA teacher, written and published as a GA teacher.

I would single out the Kast Grant program for its ongoing support of professional study.

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What do you most enjoy about teaching at GA? This is an easy one: the constant interactions with the students. The freedom to try to build a better pedagogical mousetrap. The excellent colleagues. The freedom to tilt at windmills. The things that excite me as a professional prove exciting to my kids. They see how wrapped up I can become in a study of something, a technique or an idea; this invites them to show comparable enthusiasm for things that they like to work on, for ideas they want to pursue.

I have had students who contacted businesspeople, government leaders, medical professionals, etc. My World Issues Seminar kids reached out to a wide variety of leaders, especially political leaders. My history students have written to such people as the Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, President Bill Clinton, President Vladimir Putin, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Senator Robert Casey, Senator Rick Santorum, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, and Congressman Joe Hoeffel. My students are American citizens; as citizens they should be able to – should be empowered to – contact elected officials about questions they might have. As people in society they should be encouraged to write to anyone from pen-pals to world leaders to build relationships that might prove enlightening.

What do you hope to provide to students in your classes and what do you hope they take away? Respect. I try to show my kids that I respect them as people and as thinkers. I oppose articulating this practice. I prefer to show it. The kids reciprocate, and we’re on the same side. We’re learning together.

Secondarily, I hope to inspire my kids…and to show how they inspire me as a learner. The second part of this statement shows my kids that their ideas have genuine power.

I want my kids to see that they are part of a very large world, one full of discoveries and resources, of challenges and empathy, and of endless possibilities.

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What do you value about the home/school partnership?  Again it comes down to respect. Our parents want their kids to grow academically and socially, they want them to learn to handle challenges, and they hope that their kids will become empowered by their GA experience to succeed at life. We, their teachers, have the same goals for them. The value comes in respecting each other’s efforts to pursue the same goals. This mutual respect creates a powerful, collaborative community.

What GA tradition do you value most?  When I first came to GA in 1984, I didn’t understand the value of GA’s traditions. The process seemed a bit confusing. At that time pep rallies were a bit more, um, free-form than they are now, the gym seemed impossibly packed for holiday programs, and kids stayed up all night to decorate walls…Huh?

By my second year it made sense, and by perhaps my third or fourth year I couldn’t imagine why I hadn’t seen the immense power of these traditions right away. They reflect our school’s culture. They celebrate it.

Now I realize that one of the best traditions that we have at GA is the support to begin new traditions, ones that will celebrate aspects of our culture well beyond our years on campus.

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What is a classroom activity unique to you? I love simulation. Getting inside of a character in a particular scene in a book or inside of a historical event, famous or not, gives you a different level of understanding than you might get from a book or video. Simulation makes learning a personal experience. I guess that it comes down to a simple statement: It’s easier to learn from the inside than it is from the outside.

I started to use simulation during my student-teaching days, and have used it in all my English and history classes. I’ve presented workshops for several professional organizations, mostly with my friend and co-conspirator Emily Rubinfield. We’ve actually taken students to one regional and one national conferences to help us demonstrate the power of simulation as a teaching tool. You would have enjoyed watching them explain and demonstrate simulation in front of teachers from all around the US at the regional National Conference for the Social Studies. You also would have been proud of a different set of kids “working the display room” in costume and in character: again, GA students having an impact on a pretty significant stage.

What’s the biggest lesson you have learned from your students? That genuine respect works. Our kids aren’t students to whom we teach information. Our kids are people with whom we learn, with whom we get excited abut ideas and processes. We ask questions of all kinds and trust that we’ll pursue answers collaboratively. We work through difficulties, build on successes, and see that we have an awful lot of power to make a positive difference.