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Jim Eichsteadt Named The Peter Biggs Chair for Excellence in the Teaching of History

Jim Eichsteadt was named the Peter Biggs Chair for Excellence in the Teaching of History during the end-of-year faculty/staff breakfast, which was held on Connor Quad on June 10, 2021. (SEE PHOTOS)

The Peter Biggs Chair for Excellence in the Teaching of History is awarded every three years to a current full-time member of the Middle School or Upper School history faculty who teaches three or more history courses during the entire school year. Three years of teaching at the Academy is necessary to be eligible for consideration. The selection will be based on outstanding teaching ability in history, as well as the overall value of the faculty member to the Academy.

Jim Eichsteadt

Head of School Rich Schellhas 1760 presented Eichsteadt with his chair. Former Biggs Chair recipient (2020) Mark Stephens 1760 introduced Eichsteadt:

The Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957 and headed west to LA, where as the new Los Angeles Dodgers, they would win their first world series in 1959.

When this Biggs Chair recipient first met the other members of our department, the new teacher explained that they were easy to understand because they had just two interests, but that they were fanatical about them. History and sports. The first part of this is so clear that everyone who comes into contact with this recipient recognizes the expertise – and the unbridled passion to learn more.

In terms of their love of sports, in non-COVID years, this teacher could often be found in the faculty room at lunchtime, deep in academic discussions with Dion Lehman and Matt Notary about on-base percentages, VORP, value over replacement-players, and whether future baseball teams will learn from the Houston Astros’ electronic sign-stealing saga. This teacher was sometimes in the second-floor hallway, discussing their disappointment at the Boston Red Sox’ sinking into the sign-stealing morass – only feet from where Ally Guenther was passionately declaiming about the talent and success of every team in Boston.

And the Dodgers’ connection? They were this recipient’s favorite team as they were growing up in California. That was replaced by cheering for the Phillies, now that the recipient is living in the Philadelphia area. One shudders to think about what the recipient would have done if they had taken a teaching job in New York City.

Bob Moyer points out the work that this recipient has done – and is continuing to do – in helping the Upper School and Middle School history programs work together.

Bayard Templeton says that this recipient is respected by students, parents, and fellow teachers. Bayard explains “…as history teachers, we have been asked to make sure that our classes are safe spaces for students to discuss the crises occurring in our world this year.” This recipient has led colleagues through difficult discussions, organizing a collaborative effort to build an open, supportive history space in the MS penthouse, overlooking … the parking lot. Well, it has been entertaining to watch the bumper cars at 2:50 every day!

Kids are comfortable with this teacher, but it goes way beyond this. They see that the teacher genuinely respects them, both as students and as people. They return this respect in so many ways. I’m not sure that this recipient is even aware of how highly students respect him, how much they like him as a person. This teacher builds a rich foundation for his students’ academic and personal success. Each student, no, each young teenager, is better as a person for having spent a year under this teacher’s tutelage.

The kids who land in this recipient’s advisory are lucky; they’re going to be important parts of a team. It’s apparent that this recipient’s advisory is an exciting place to be. These 11 kids will laugh together, wonder together, and support each other. They learn that hard work is both encouraged and expected, and that they can support each other in reaching for better work than they imagined they could do. 11 kids are going to learn that successes of so many kinds are worthy of celebration, and these 11 will find that crazy ideas might not be so crazy after all. This teacher can find merit in the most unlikely ideas or questions; this acceptance – and analysis – of wide-ranging ideas suggests that room 206 can be an agora. It’s okay to have doubts and problems in this recipient’s room, and it’s okay to ask for help in so many ways, as their advisor will be there for them through everything.. We won’t even go into his advisory’s cup-stacking dynasty…

Jay Wright explains that this recipient “…has continued to develop the middle school history program; his insightful lessons aren’t just ones that favor the majority. He works hard to find ways to let student voices be heard. This recipient has created co-curricular classes and his work speaks volumes.”

Bayard insisted that I mention that high on the list of this recipient’s memorable achievements in recent years was his notable performance in our department’s Tik Tok video for the holiday program. Jonas was so inspired that he will be appointing this recipient to take charge of making the MS tik-tok holiday video in future years. Oh, I’m sorry Jonas – was I not supposed to announce this? The person’s many friends have started chanting: “ECA, ECA!”

Colleagues and students know that they can go to this recipient with questions about almost anything; on the rare occasion that the recipient doesn’t know the answer, they’ll suggest ways in which the questioner can find the information they seek. The recipient will follow up hours or days later to make sure that the people were able to find the answer. Then this recipient will want to know all about it; this recipient models the belief that learning is important, and that it’s fun. Kids see him living and breathing this, and the message is more than implied – it’s direct, it’s consistent, and it’s powerful.

This recipient isn’t comfortable in the limelight, but the solid foundation he provides makes the entire division, and the history department in both Middle School and Upper School a better place. With apologies for asking him to move into the limelight for a few hours today, then three well-deserved years afterward, I’m thrilled – I am thrilled – to present the Biggs Chair for Excellence in the Teaching of History to Jim Eichsteadt."