Teachers are inspired to establish their careers in education by a wide variety of influences. For Ben Dueker, an 8th grade history teacher at Northeast Middle School in Creve Coeur, the influence was family.
“My mom was a teacher in my school,” Ben said. “I was able to see her commitment to teaching and the way she built relationships with her students. She was my inspiration to become a teacher.”
Ben had intended to teach college, but then he participated in a college service project working with kindergarten and 1st grade students. That experience convinced him to teach in lower grades. Ben began his teaching career 11 years ago and is in his seventh year of teaching 8th grade in the Parkway C-2 district. His decision to teach history was also influenced by his family.
“My grandfather was a World War II veteran, and he used to take me to museums when we traveled together. He passed his love of history to me,” Ben said.
“I chose U.S. history because I think it’s important that students feel a sense of belonging and purpose,” he said. “I try to teach the kids that, although this is a diverse country, we have a shared culture and history, and we all want to participate and make the country better.”
Ben said a big change since his began teaching is the shift from students being able to recite dates and facts to knowing how to use that information for analysis, research and interpretation. He said his class used to be content-based, but now it’s about one-third content and two-thirds skill-building. There is a bigger emphasis on reading, writing, and using maps, graphs and charts.
“I do a lot with technology in my classroom,” Ben said. “Even though the kids are very familiar with technology, it’s not a given that they know how to use tech for learning. I help build their tech skills through offering flipped classroom lessons on YouTube, helping them collaborate outside the classroom, and encouraging them to use multiple resources on projects.”
Technology can give students a chance to stand out in class. Ben said he uses different techniques for different learning styles. For instance, his class did a project with green-screen videos. The students stood in front of a green screen for the presentation, and a background video was added later.
“The drama students really had a chance to shine,” Ben said. “It’s exciting to see each student light up with different teaching strategies.”
Ben likes to keep up with new technology as well. His students are using new interactive map technology to build a travel route during a unit on westward expansion. Ben is eager to see how well the mapping project works.
“Taking risks is important in education,” he said. “Parkway does a good job of giving us the freedom to experiment and offering support through PLC (Professional Learning Community).”
High-school counselors are beginning to talk about career choices and study plans when students reach the 8th grade. Ben said he encourages his students to consider a career in education, even if they may not be interested at the time.
“Most people don’t know what they want to do when they’re in 8th grade,” he said. “I tell my kids to keep their love of learning alive, and to keep an open mind about teaching. It may not be their first career, but things could change, and they might want to teach later on.”
Ben said his first class of 8th graders has now graduated from high school, and many are headed for college.
“It’s exciting to see some of these kids going to elite universities. Being a part of their success is really gratifying.”