The following article if from the Jume 2012 issue of State College Magazine by Caitlyn Kronket and Noelle Mateer.
Dave Anderson is the pope. Well, not exactly. He and a student are reading lines from a scripted dialog in front of the class. Anderson gets into it, but his student portraying St. Julius outdoes him with a British accent. Giggles erupt from the desks around them.
“Funny things happen in classrooms,” says Anderson, or, as the students call him, Dave. In his seven years as a religious history teacher at Grace Prep High School, he has been the subject of several student pranks.
“I’ve been duct-taped to a pole,” he says with a smile.
Anderson makes joking and interacting with students a priority, and so his students joke and interact back with him.
For example, a sea of hands shoots up when he asks a question about today’s readings—taken from the works of St. Ignatius of Loyola and John Calvin—for his religious history class. It’s tough stuff for a high schooler, but Anderson has strategies that make it work.
First, he provides students with a list of the most crucial historical terms on their class website, rather than overwhelming them. He calls this “fresh-squeezed history.”
Then, he focuses on continually revisiting previously covered material, so that his lessons build on each other. When it comes to important vocabulary, students memorize a set of five terms, then add five more words to make a set of 10 for the next text, then later 15, then 20…
“By coming back over and over again, students say ‘Dave, I still remember that,’” he says. His strategy makes the all-too-common phenomenon of forgetting information after a history test, well, history.
All this in no way means that Anderson’s classes focus solely on memorization. Rather, apart from the role-playing segment, today’s class is completely discussion-based.
That’s because Anderson’s goal is larger than simply preparing his students for college. It’s also larger than arming students with cultural, historical literacy. For him, the most important aspect of history is its ability to teach us. And that’s why today’s discussion is so important. The readings from the Reformation touch on themes of conflict between and within religious communities, something Christian-based Grace Prep students will undoubtedly face at some point in their lives.
But ultimately, Anderson wins over students with his open personality, approachability and great sense of humor. As he walks through the hallways of Grace Prep’s school building, students say hi, joke with him and ask questions.
“What I’ve found most important to my teaching is relating to my students,” he says.
Even when that means letting them duct-tape him to a pole.