Editor’s note: Reporter Newspapers and ReporterNewspapers.net are starting a new regular feature to showcase the work of outstanding teachers and school officials in Brookhaven, Buckhead, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. Like our recurring Standout Student features, these Exceptional Educator articles will focus on people who have been identified by their schools as influential teachers and administrators.

We start with Jill Stedman, a history and government instructor at Holy Spirit Preparatory School who has been teaching for 19 years.

Jill Stedman
Jill Stedman

Jill Stedman

Holy Spirit Preparatory School

Teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History, Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History, U.S. Government

Q: What attracted you to teaching at first?

A: During my first two years of college, I competed on my university’s competitive speech and debate team. As my coursework became more intense, I decided I needed to give up competition because it required so much travel. However, I did not want to give up my involvement in competitive public speaking.

I was invited to serve as volunteer speech and debate coach at Georgetown Prep. I had recently completed an internship on Capitol Hill, and though I have always loved politics, I did not feel the same sense of fulfillment in my work for my congressman as I did when I was coaching. Soon after, I decided I would be happiest teaching the subject about which I was most passionate – government and politics.

Q: Has the appeal of teaching changed for you over 19 years? What keeps you going year after year?

A: Not at all. There are moments when teaching where everyone is so intensely engaged in the story of U.S. history, wanting to know the outcome of the event, that the desire “to know” is almost palpable. Those are the best moments. When a teacher can craft lessons in such a way as to generate that strong desire for knowledge, the teacher has the ability to get students to really dig deeply into a subject. It is those cliffhanger moments in a lesson when the students are on the edge of their seats with that desire “to know” that keep me in the classroom.

Q: What do you think makes a great teacher?

A: Great teachers love the subject area that they teach, but even more so, they are passionate about sharing their content expertise with their students. Enthusiasm is contagious, but that enthusiasm must be channeled into growth. Beyond enthusiasm, a great teacher knows how to share their knowledge in a way that makes learning accessible, manageable, and attainable for students. A great teacher is eager to find ways to support and promote each student’s learning potential.

Q: What do you want to see in your students?

A: I want my students to be well informed, engaged citizens. I hope they will seek knowledge and truth, and I hope they are courageous enough to stand up for that which they believe to be right. I hope they will actively serve those who are in need and that they will use their voices to promote polices that create a fair, just society. I believe my role is to help my students develop the skills that they will need to fulfill this potential.

Q: How do you engage your students?

A: I try to be very cognizant of the fact that students have different preferred means of learning, so I use a variety of learning strategies and activities within each lesson. I also make a very conscious effort to use a variety teaching materials (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) with the goal of addressing multiple learning modalities within each lesson

Q: Do you have a project or special program you use year after year?

A: Each year, my AP U.S. History students complete a “History Lab” through which the students explain the conflict between and evaluate the actions of the Native Americans and the U.S. government during the settlement of the Great Plains. This is an inquiry-based activity that requires students to analyze and synthesize a series of primary source documents (two treaties, two maps, a set of Native paintings on buffalo hide, a New York Times account from an Indian Bureau agent, and a few eye-witness accounts of conflict between Natives and the U.S. army). After using the documents to investigate the conflict over the Great Plains settlement, the students write an essay in which they evaluate the means through which the U.S. achieved its goals and are asked to propose an alternate means through which the U.S. might have achieved those goals while providing greater protection for native rights and culture.

A: What do you hope your students take away from your class?

Q: The day after the Iowa Caucus, my AP Government class reviewed the caucus results. My students were remarking on the closeness of the results between Clinton and Sanders when one of my student’s exclaimed, “and people say that one vote doesn’t matter!” This same student is so excited to cast her first vote on Super Tuesday; she plans to be present when her precinct opens.

On my classroom bookshelf, I keep a framed quote from President Kennedy that reads, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” I hope my students take away the belief that their civic actions matter, that they know that they can make a difference, and that they are inspired to try.

Note: This article was edited for space. For a full version of the questions and responses, go to ReporterNewspapers.net.

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.