In an article between the Civil War Trust and James Percoco (one that includes some great images of him in action), my high school history teacher, stated “I think what will serve as my legacy is the numbers of young people who found their calling for life through their experiences in my classroom. The American historian, journalist, and educator Henry Adams once wrote, ‘A teacher effects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops.’ ”
At his retirement party yesterday that influence was self-evident as former students (including me), family members, and colleagues stood up to talk about his accomplishments.
I know I’ve talked about Jim’s influence on my love of history (last year in a piece on the day of his induction into the National Teacher’s Hall of Fame) , and so I thought I would reflect on Percoco’s remarks at the gathering last night.
1. Teaching is about telling stories...
….and about engaging students with the world around them.
2. No matter what you do, there should be an element of play in learning.
…in other words, education should be fun.
The first is, on some level, the ever present relevance question. In his career, Jim has reached out to students while also learning from them. Helping to make connections between the past, present, and the future. One of his students described sitting in his classroom the morning of the Challenger explosion, and how he worked with them explaining the disaster in context, and helping them deal with the trauma through understanding the importance of NASA and its history in the United States. Because context and perspective matters.
It wasn’t enough to take us on a walk through battlefields. No we stopped at various points along the way to listen, to hear, to understand through the eyes of those who stood on the hallowed grounds. Those narratives, histories, and stories connected the emotional with the physical world breathing life into what many think of as boring.
The second is a measure of learning from experience. Jim Percoco took his work seriously, but always embraced the joy in teaching. It’s an attitude that I felt — the humor and the passion that made the learning part less of a chore, and more like fun.It’s an attitude that I’ve tried to embrace in my job, and in my life. We only live once after all. So thanks Mr. P, Percocs….Jim (and as everyone said last night, good luck with the next chapter in your career).
For work this week I penned a post about Jim’s classes and how he “unlocked” the I love history gene. If you had Jim Percoco as a teacher let me know in the comments how you felt or hop on over to PreservationNation and tell us what made you realize you you loved history.