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Tuesday October 13, 2009 Edition
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Sharing a Passion for Teaching: 35 Years And Going Strong

photo by Cookie Steponaitis

Tuesday October 13, 2009

By Cookie Steponaitis

   Over 3,500 students who have passed through Pamela Taylor's room and classes at VUHS since 1974 have experienced her passion for teens and history. Groups have been escorted to Germany, Russia, Ukraine, France and Washington, D.C. If that were not enough, she has supervised and chaperoned more floats, dances, homecoming, basketball games, gymnastics competitions, school bus rides than most of us would care to count and is an example to her students of the importance of learning by earning a second Master’s degree in 2005 and continuing to be a learner. In the midst of all that, there is no intention to slow down or think about stopping. Pamela Taylor is on a mission and still loving to share her passion for the past with the next generation coming in to the halls of VUHS.

     “It really is kind of comical, “Pamela recounts with a grin. “The new class will come in and I can usually name the family of over 70% and then pick out which family member is their father or mother. Coupled with the fact that I taught their parents sends most of them into a tizzy trying to figure out the years of all that. I simply smile and tell them that they are in a history class after all, that I taught Mrs. Step when I was three and that Frau Minns was older than I am. Coming from the last eighth grade graduating class out of the one room school in Ira, Pam has not only seen the many trends in educational philosophy, but has taught through many of them.  When reflecting on her one room school years, Pam points out many lessons that have served her well in her career as a teacher. “We worked, played, cried and celebrated life together. The most important learning that I have always carried with me during my life is that you respect each other, never judge anyone and embrace the pure joy of learning. We took care of each other as well as helping the older folks in town. We didn’t call it community service then, it was just something you did. The joy of reading and experiencing the world through books was an integral part of my early education and still is. Once we were done our work for the day the older students would teach the younger kids whatever lesson our teacher asked us to do and then I would read the rest of the day. It was wonderful.”

   Many Americans claim to be history buffs and many more love specific periods of time, but Ms. Taylor sees it as more than that. Using history as a mirror for people, she pulls from it the content, the concepts and the connections to the present that makes history come alive. When asked about the most important lessons she teaches her students, Ms. Taylor remarked, “I teach my students to always ask questions and think critically about what they see and read. We study the importance of accepting, not just tolerating differences and ‘walking a mile in someone else’s shoes’ to experience differing viewpoints that can lead to conflict and misunderstanding. I like to put my students outside their comfort zones when we are analyzing topics that lend themselves to good discussions. I believe that my students benefit from learning about people’s stories and experiences during historic decades. We use in the Social Studies department a wonderful series by Peter Jennings entitled The Century, America’s Time… as an example as well as presidential biographies, film and documentaries. I teach students that there is a difference between acceptance and tolerance and that nations can make great strides as evidenced by the last presidential election. I also teach them that it is alright to disagree but to base their position on a topic and include research that supports their opinion.

    A strong advocate of travel opportunities, Ms. Taylor has stewarded groups to two different continents. When you talk with her about these excursions you see how she blends the content to the awareness that can only come from being and seeing another culture and way of life. Of all the places she went, she holds the strongest memories of trips to Europe and remarked, “I studied World War II in college and graduate school and for me to actually be at the places I had studied about in these countries was a dream come true. I can not put into words the feelings I had when I was in St. Petersburg at the memorial honoring the siege there; walking through a tunnel in Kiev and seeing the most spectacular stone carvings depicting the struggle Ukrainians had in WWII, walking on Omaha Beach or visiting Essen and seeing an example of the Nazi Jewish repression and persecution.”

    Another role that Pam takes seriously is that of mentor for community service.  In addition to the VUHS school community service learning days, she mentors and helps to link students with organizations and causes that strengthen the student involvement at multiple levels. About this facet of her job, Pam commented, “I believe in the sense of community and giving back to it. I volunteer my time at the Ferrisburgh Volunteer Fire Department where my sister is a firefighter and love helping out. I took many photos at live burns and other related events and help out at the annual chicken BBQ and breakfast which is always fun. I also volunteer my time at my church.”

   Trip itineraries are just being distributed to the students for a U.S. History and Civics/Current Events odyssey to Washington, D.C. in January 2010. Pam is once again looking forward not only to the time in the classroom but the learning trip to come. She enthusiastically supports all newcomers to the field but cautions that they need to have a real passion for their teaching and honest caring for the students.  With no intention of exiting stage left in the foreseeable future, it is a pleasure to watch the passion that sent her into education in the fall of 1974 still as bright and as powerful.  The Valley Voice salutes all people who in their careers are still energized and on the job with passion and commitment. Pam summed it up best herself when she remarked about the best advice she was ever given. “Respect all living beings and nature and never quit!”


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