Justin Hons is a Social Studies teacher at Cleveland Heights High School where he teaches World History (Modern and Ancient) this year. In the past he has taught American History (Modern), Street Law, Global Issues, Bioethics and Psychology. Hons completed his BS in Integrated Social Studies at Kent State University in 2001 and his MA in History at Cleveland State University in 2008. Hons has coached mock trial and wrestling and served as a union chair for Lincoln West High School and on the executive board of the Cleveland Teachers Union. In his own words: “I was born and raised in northeast Ohio. Education truly was the ‘great equalizer’ for me as I was the first person on either side of my family to ever go to college. I first knew I wanted to be a teacher in 10th grade after experiencing an English class that opened my eyes to the impact education could have on kids. I wanted to help students think critically about the world around them as well improve upon their ability to navigate that world. Teaching, to me, was a great way to work with young people and stay engaged intellectually on topics that interested me personally.”
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I was inspired by a combination of things. Teachers who encouraged me to think and who were just good at communicating how to do something impressed me at a young age. I also thought I could make a difference in my community and in the world by helping create aware and critical thinking young people.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
It really is a site to see when a student takes something you showed or taught them and uses it in their own life somehow. Whether that is immediate or much later in their life, it is always a cool thing to observe.
It’s also pretty rewarding when former students see you out in public and start talking about something you taught about years ago. That just demonstrates that you made an impact.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a teacher?
The political climate right now is very slanted against teachers, particularly those in public education. It is extremely frustrating to see the profession devalued and criticized by a relatively small but powerful group of so-called education “reformers” today.
Meanwhile, the largest challenge that routinely goes under-discussed is the role poverty has on one’s education. One’s class clearly determines the quality of one’s education in this country. I see stark differences in how this affects individual students by the time they reach high school. Reading, math, and comprehension levels handicap many of our young people due to a lack of adequate resources.
What are your favorite ways to incorporate primary sources and/or technology in your lessons?
Primary sources are a must for any history teacher today. I have students read and analyze them, use them in constructing their own versions of history, and have them incorporated into art projects. I cannot tell you the number of times that students have gained a whole different perspective on an historical event simply because of the use of one primary source.
Technology is also a must in today’s classroom. We are so lucky to be living in an age where we can use the internet to call up an image or video from an historical moment. The ability to show primary source videos in class gets easier and easier every year. Additionally, allowing students to utilize the technology themselves advances both skill and content knowledge simultaneously.
What is the most important thing you learned in your teacher education program?
To not be afraid to experiment, to try new things, and to constantly be open to learning yourself. I was very influenced by the ideas of constructivism and Paulo Freire early in my education. I think teachers should attempt to approach teaching and learning as a simultaneous activity that they engage in with their students as much as possible.
What advice would you give a student interested in becoming a Social Studies teacher?
Being a social studies teacher is a really rewarding career, as long as you know what you’re getting into. You have to take the ups with the downs and learn the art of flowing with the go. You are going to deal with a lot of nonsense from principals, administration, students, parents, fellow teachers, and politicians along the way. But if you truly enjoy the subjects you are teaching, like interacting with the spectrum of people you come across daily, and can see just how much good social studies teachers are needed in this world, this is a great job to have.