Featuring CSU alumna Sara Ziemnik for the December Teacher Spotlight!
Sara Ziemnik teaches 9th grade World History and 10th grade A.P. U.S. History at Rocky River High School in Rocky River, Ohio. She earned her B.S.in Secondary Education and Social Studies at Miami University in 1999 and her M.A. in History at Cleveland State University in 2004. In 2002 Ziemnik received the prestigious James Madison Fellowship for the state of Ohio, which allowed her to study at Georgetown University and Cleveland State University. Over the past 15 years she has taught World History, Western Civilization, U.S. History, Geopolitics, Sociology, Psychology, U.S. Government, and A.P. U.S. History. In Sara’s own words: “I am a life-long Clevelander and love this town. I am passionate about Social Studies education and honestly love coming to work every day: my students make me laugh and challenge me. I also have a pretty amazing family (husband of 9 years, Matt, and two children Jackson, 6, and Emery, 3 1/2), an endurance sports addiction, and a slight obsession with the Cleveland Indians and Michael Jackson.”
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I grew up in a home with a teacher (my mom) as well as a family that loved historical trips. From a young age, I had an interest in how people lived before me. I also had a passion for reading. As I grew older, I realized that history is not static and I was fascinated with looking at the past through different perspectives. I also knew I needed a job where I could work with people, since I’m a bit of a talker (to put it mildly). Teaching was the perfect fit for me.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Working with my students and seeing their success. Watching them completely change from the course of August to May is just remarkable, and the fact that I get to have a small part in that is really rewarding. I love seeing their hard work and their determination pay off.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a teacher?
Having enough time to do what needs to be done. I have big, lofty goals: I want my students to read analytically, think critically, and write essays/create projects based upon primary and secondary sources. However, during the typical school day it is hard to find enough time to grade and continue to plan new lessons. I’ve somewhat accepted that my “in” box will never, ever, be clear, but to just breathe and trust that it will all get done somehow.
What are your favorite ways to incorporate primary sources and/or technology in your lessons?
I love incorporating audio at every chance I get. This could be music, interviews, speeches, “fireside chats,” etc. I’ve been blessed to receive a generous grant from the Rocky River Education Foundation for 15 iPads for use in my classroom. With these, my students can make iMovie documentaries, newscasts, and presentations that are interactive, using actual audio and primary source images, and really just immersing them in a particular period of history. My AP US History students also helped develop content for Cleveland Historical after they were finished with the AP test in May. It was remarkable to watch them become historians and go through the research and creation process using technology.
What is the most important thing you learned in your teacher education program?
Definitely that I learned to tailor courses to students with special needs. This is so important for every teacher at every level. We take on a big responsibility as teachers to educate every single student to the best of their potential, no matter what disability or issue they may have. Courses that helped me understand and manage how to differentiate lessons and concepts were really helpful for achieving that goal.
What advice would you give a student interested in becoming a Social Studies teacher?
I feel very strongly that to do this right, it takes a lot of work. Try to keep a healthy balance with your life, yet resist the temptation to “phone it in.” Keep changing, keep researching, keep reading, and keep looking for new and fresh ways to present content, whether you’re at Year 1 or Year 31.