Connectivity 101: A few words with Urbana High's 2018 History Teacher of the Year

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Connectivity 101: A few words with Urbana High's 2018 History Teacher of the Year

To MARK FOLEY, teaching is much more than classroom lectures and homework assignments.

"I believe in trying to connect with students in different ways and actually trying to be more personal with them," says Urbana High's veteran social studies teacher. Foley goes about that in unique ways — be it arranging for students to be a part of a work trip to the Mississippi Delta or breaking away from the typical social studies curriculum to teach them about social justice.

For that, Foley was recently honored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History as Illinois' 2018 History Teacher of the Year, a distinction that caught him off guard.

"I thought it was a mistake at first," he says. "There are so many teachers who work really hard for their students. I really am honored, but I'm aware it's not just one person, but a huge team that makes a difference."

Here's more about Foley, in his own words:

The reason I emphasize community service so much is ... part of the students' curriculum is service learning education. I worked with Habitat For Humanity in Champaign for the last few years and have been taking students down there to give them the experience of serving others. Not a lot of teachers can do that, which makes organizing stuff like that challenging.

I would not have been able to win this award if my district had not been so supportive of what we've been trying to do with the Mississippi trip and with a new curriculum. So far, we've taken five trips, which is a lot to ask to a school district.

On my summer vacation ... I went to Hawaii with my family. While we were there, we picked up a shell that we really liked and brought it all the way home. The other day, I put the shell in a bowl of water and a snail popped out of it.

It must've been asleep for three weeks. Now, we have a Hawaiian snail in Urbana, Illinois.

My favorite topic to teach is ... film and music — by far. It allows me to dig into the cultural history of the U.S. instead of politics and wars. It shows how the Earth reflects the time people live in. Teaching film and music gives me a lot of flexibility.

After the Parkland (Fla.) shooting, we did a unit on school shootings, and the kids did research about why these things happen. It's cool because I can take the subject in any direction.

As far as my favorite film or music genre to share with students ... I really like Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" and "The New World." For music, I really like punk rock because punks expressed their anger through music, and kids tend to really like that. I also like the Grateful Dead and early hip hop.

Topics (2):Education, People

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