John Waldron: Teaching Outside the Lines
John Waldron teaches history at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School. While history class can be a timeline of historical facts and dates, there is nothing rote about Waldron’s history lessons. History, said Waldron, is not a linear expression but a story full of great messages that can help students understand heroes and inspire them.
Waldron, winner of an Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence 2013 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, is immersed in teaching history. Now in his 14th year at Washington, the National Board Certified Educator teaches World History and Asian History for the International Baccalaureate Program as well as United States Government, Medieval and Ancient History and AP Government and Politics. He is also the founder of Washington’s Model United Nations Program.
Waldron’s unique teaching method is energetic and creative. He prefers using historical films, books, articles and role-playing to a textbook. “My students learn there is not a right way to look at something,” he said. “I encourage them to discover the right evidence. By exposing them to ideas in the social studies, I am promoting good thinking, writing and inquiry reading skills.”
Former student, Gabrielle Inhofe, now at the University of Texas, wrote in an email, “A lot of teachers teach history by giving key events and dates and expecting the students to just memorize them, without forming a cohesive picture of cause and effect, etc. Mr. Waldron completely immersed us in the subject material by giving us nuanced background information, multiple perspectives of an issue, and having us learn from multiple sources such as books, articles, films and original documents. The fact that we drew our learning from such a broad variety of sources gave the individual student the space to analyze and form opinions about a historical event on our own, instead of acquiring the ability to recite a diluted textbook account.”
One of Waldron’s most popular teaching methods among his students is the in-class reenactment of historical events such as a mock Nuremberg Trial, a Viking role-playing game and a model Versailles Peace Conference.
Inhofe’s favorite historical re-creation was the Nuremberg Trials. “We had students portraying judges, lawyers, defendants, and allied powers. I played Hjalmar Schacht, who served as both Hitler’s President of the Reichsbank and Minister of Economics. Having a back-and-forth dialogue about our roles in WWII helped us to engage more with the war. This was a much more dynamic way of learning than reading from a textbook, which is often dry and unrelatable.”
Former student, Mary Casey, said Waldron’s teaching style was engaging. “I loved that we played ‘Jeopardy’ in class as a way to study for tests and had role-playing and Model UN-style re-creations of modern political events.”
Knowing that historical facts are an instantaneous keystroke away on a computer, Waldron encourages his students to use other methods of discovery, such as books from his lending library. Against a long wall in his classroom are bookshelves brimming with historical books he has collected, bought or been given. Waldren’s extensive library offers students information, insight and research options into history. “When a student has a question about a historical topic, I like to direct them toward one of my books,” he said. “Yes, there is a lot of information online, but books are a great way to get the full historical picture and introduce students to outstanding historical writers.”
And, Waldron’s teaching goes beyond the classroom. Every Sunday he spends two hours at a local Starbucks with current students and Waldron history class alums. “Students know they can come see me to discuss school issues and get help. Sometimes alumni come to see me. It’s a good way to get one-on-one time with students. And if no one shows, I grade papers.”
Waldron said he feels very fortunate to teach at Washington. “I appreciate the roots and tradition of the school and the commitment to excellence. There is a reality here, an appreciation for the diversity of students and administrations.”