We are pleased to present Mark Pecot of St. Ignatius High School for the February Teacher Spotlight!
Mark Pecot has been teaching history for 17 years. He earned his BA in history and secondary education at Marquette University and his MA in American history at John Carroll University. Pecot began his career in Ann Arbor, Michigan and taught at Saint Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio from 1997-2007 where he also served as Social Studies Department Chair. He currently teaches AP and Standard United States History courses as well as Civil Rights and Liberties at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. Here at CSU, Pecot has worked with the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities to develop content for the Cleveland Historical app.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I was inspired to become a history teacher by my own history teachers. It was apparent to me that my teachers loved being in the classroom. I didn’t look at them and think “I could do that.” I looked at them and thought “I think I’d love doing that.”
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
While I technically have control of my daily schedule, every day brings its own challenges and opportunities. We don’t teach in a vacuum. When your lesson plan depends on teenagers to make it work, be prepared to be surprised. I embrace that…it’s what keeps things interesting!
What are the biggest challenges you face as a teacher?
Time. There’s never really enough of it. I create all my own teaching materials (presentations, quizzes, tests, handouts, activities, etc.) and between planning, content creation, time in the classroom, grading, meeting with students, there just isn’t any time to take a breath. Add onto that department meetings, school committees, and extra-curriculars…and yes, two children under 5. I’m a busy man!
What are your favorite ways to incorporate primary sources and/or technology in your lessons?
I think primary sources are one of the best ways to promote higher order thinking skills. Too often, teachers simply throw in primary sources as an afterthought to the lesson (here’s a copy of the Stamp Act Resolutions, kid…enjoy!), perhaps with a few comprehension questions. I’m a believer that you can use primary sources to advance, not just supplement, the core content. The trick is finding the right kind of sources and organizing them along a theme. To make them accessible, I edit textual sources to a reasonable length and include definitions of unfamiliar terms. I also try to mix up the type of source material. We use letters, diaries, documents, and lots and lots of images in class. For example, an exercise I use to teach Reconstruction is a series of six sources organized along the theme: “What did freedom mean for African Americans after the Civil War?” Among those documents is a description of sharecropping, statistics on lynchings, excerpts from Congressional hearings on the KKK, and a letter from Jourdan Anderson, a former slave, to his old master. That latter document is dripping with sarcasm…something my students can very much relate to!
As far as technology, I’m a firm believer that technology is a tool, not an end in itself. If the only good thing about a lesson is that it uses technology, then it’s not a very good lesson! I try to incorporate digital sources: images, video clips, sound clips, etc. daily into my classroom. As with other primary sources, I try to use these materials to advance my content goals, not just as window-dressing on a presentation. I’ll ask students to critically “read” sources. For instance, I’ll have students listen to the first minute of FDR’s First Inaugural Address. I ask them to identify not just the language choices and imagery in the speech, but the tone in which it was presented, and make judgments about FDR’s leadership style.
One tech-based project that both my students and I have enjoyed is recording digital oral history interviews using iPads, compiling accompanying images and documents, and producing mini-documentaries for possible publication on the Cleveland Historical iPhone/Android app.
What is the most important thing you learned in your teacher education program?
Most young teachers get hung up on class management. Plan lessons where students are doing more and you are talking less, and classroom management will (mostly) take care of itself.
What advice would you give a student interested in becoming a Social Studies teacher?
If you want to be a great teacher, you need to love your subject and genuinely enjoy the company of young people. Teaching has its ups and downs, but the good work that you do on behalf of your subject and your students is where you will find the energy to put in those long hours.