In Fairfax County history teacher lessons, South County High School students speak even when they are not in his class.
Even if South County High School students in Lorton, Virginia, don’t attend Sean Miller’s class, they’re still buzzing about the day’s lesson.
On Thursday, a student approached Miller and expressed interest in enrolling in his class next year. The student plans to do his best to add it to the schedule.
Students who do not attend one of Miller’s classes do not miss out. It opens its doors to all students who wish to contribute to the painting on the board. Some draw cartoons, illustrate historical figures or write messages to peers.
At the end of the assessment period he erases it so students can start all over again. He said it’s a space for student creativity.
Miller, who was recognized as a 2021 history teacher by George Washington Mount Vernon, helped create an elective on African American history in public schools in Fairfax County. In connection with the completion of his first year of teaching the course, Miller’s desire to give students creative freedom sparked conversation among his colleagues and students.
“What supports me every day is just knowing that it’s all about the students, not about me,” Miller said. “It’s not about my ego. It’s not about my grades. About every day, how can I be unforgettable for the students? ‘”
Miller was about to finish his eighth year of teaching in South County, but he began his professional career in marketing. He was part of a team that visited schools to develop marketing and operational plans, but seeing Miller’s enthusiasm, his colleagues noticed that he was likely to become a teacher.
He was inspired by his former art teacher, who was the first to tell Miller that he was too hard on himself as a student. He also uses some of the strategies introduced by one of his history teachers, a game called “dumping” in which students can score points for answering questions about history. He often reflects on how much fun it was in this class.
Now in the hallway Miller said he enjoys teaching history because it can help students compare what has happened in the past with current events. It aims to give students the opportunity to “see their ability to make history”.
It allows students to express themselves through art – in one case, students were given the opportunity to create a song about African American history and their own experiences. Some students come after school to collaborate in the songwriting process.
Other students have chosen to write a book of poetry, and some are making short or documentary films on a variety of historical topics, Miller said. One student is working on an extended play that reflects the basic concepts of the course, such as ideas of power, society, culture, innovation, resistance and memory.
“I also take into account what students are interested in, so don’t just put them in a box to say,‘ Okay, your project has to be this way, ’” Miller said. “I really want them to think about what will make them talk about the story and then kind of leverage that will allow them to express themselves as best they can.”
For the past two years, Miller said, the class has been discussing social unrest. One class last week talked about George Floyd’s death and drew parallels between the murders of Floyd and Emmett Thiel.
“My goal has always been to say, ‘OK, it’s been a long time, but a lot of mistakes are still happening,'” Miller said. “And they also have some things that will happen in the future because of these past events. History is extremely important to me because history happens every day. ”
One of Miller’s former students, who was a high school student at the time, told him at the end of the year that if it weren’t for his history lesson, she would have dropped out of high school. The ability to communicate with students drives Miller, he said. And when conversations in the hallway are some sign, his students feel the same way.
“There will be days when I feel like students may not even catch what I’m teaching with history,” Miller said. “But did I give them a life lesson that goes beyond knowledge about content?”