Changing future by learning about past

Abel Lara

While some teachers swear by textbook teaching and rote learning, others open up new avenues of communication in the classroom to reach their students. However history teacher Ruth Whiteley brings a fresh twist to usher the past into the present.

“I had this student come in one time and say history is a bunch of dates and dead people,” Whiteley said. “I said, ‘well you’re right on both of those, most of the people we study about are dead, but if you don’t understand your past, I don’t think you can plan for your future’.

Whiteley has been teaching for 36 years and says every year seems to get better.

“Last year was probably the best ever,” Whiteley said. “Everything just seemed to work. I had great kids and I still like coming to work everyday.”

Other teachers see Whiteley’s passion for history and the impact she makes on her students.

“She encourages teachers to strive for excellence,” Economics teacher Laura Wagner said. “She has very high standards and she wants to make sure that the teachers in her department live up to those standards and will help you get there.”

Students also see Whiteley’s ability to reach them by connecting history to their lives.

“She really taught in a different way than any other teacher,” senior Cody Wilbanks said. “She demanded attention, but you wanted to give it to her because she knew what she was talking about.”

Whiteley uses knowledge to bring history to life for her students, but also helps them apply these lessons outside her class. There’s that saying that history repeats itself. I always say history doesn’t repeat itself man keeps making the same stupid mistakes. I try to make it to where what they are learning relevant.” Students appreciate the effort Whitely puts in to these connections for them.

“I really learned more [from her class] than any other history class I’ve been in,” Wilbanks said. “She was focused and has been to so many places giving her personal insight.”

Whiteley uses her personal experiences and travels to bring in real world examples and new perspective to inspire her students in the same way traveling inspired her.

“I was trying to go somewhere every four years because it has helped give me a better perspective on the world. It helps when I can tell kids that I’ve been there,” Whiteley said. “At Gothic churches like Notre Dame, you can look at all the pictures you want, but when you go there, it blows most people away.”

She also hopes the skills she teaches her students are able to stay with them over the years so that they will have an appreciation of history and how it affects their lives.

“I hope that my students can pick up a newspaper and relate it to something in history,” Whitely said, “and that they will understand the relevance of not only the history, but of whatever story is being reported.”

For Whitely, one of the most inspiring events in history is the French Revolution and she believes students can learn a lot from this event.

“At that point in the year kids start to understand a change over time and history and how a group of people can get to a certain point like the French were and have a revolution,” Whiteley said. “The unfortunate thing is that kids learn the most revolutions end in failure. Everything we learn in class leads to this.”

With all the challenges life holds for her students, Whiteley gives them more than just information, she gives them lessons to live by.

“The neat thing about history is that it’s always changing and they’re finding something new every day and disproving the text book,” Whiteley said. “History teaches us tolerance. I never get tired of it.”