Christiana Martin sits in a chair at the front of the room, cracking herself up.
Her students sit in two rows of chairs, acting out a jury selection.
“I’m not sure it had a whole lot of academic value but was an interesting experience that maybe students will be able to take into their future lives,” Martin says. “If you’re ever called for jury duty, you know exactly what to expect.”
Martin has written parts for each of the students, with jokes, political opinions and quirks. These characters are inspired by people Martin observed during her own jury experience.
A student sits looking afraid: “I can’t be here,”she says. “I have a fear of court rooms.”
Next to Martin, at the front of the room, sit four additional students acting as lawyers in the process of selecting the jurors they want to keep. They ask a juror in the back row about their opinion on assault.
She looks around at the jurors in her company. They nudge her shoulder, pointing in the direction of the lawyers, who again ask the same question louder. She points to her ears and shrugs- she can’t hear.
In the Advanced Democratic Roots classroom, this kind of hands-on activity is nothing new. Although this is only her second year teaching at U-32, Martin is always doing something new and creative to help her students learn.
“You know that free cart that’s out in the atrium sometimes that the library puts out? With a bunch of books that are free?
Somebody had left this board game out there that one of my students picked up and gave it to me in that class period. He knew it was one of my favorite games ever.
I realized that by the end of the year I knew them really well, but they also knew me really well. We trusted each other and had a really cool classroom because of that.”
How would you describe your teaching style? How has your style changed over time?
“I went to a really progressive high school where the teachers gave the students a ton of autonomy; like license over how their classrooms were run. I try to bring that approach to U-32.
I try to make a real point of saying: ‘Hey I changed this, what do you think about it?’
You’ll notice that sometimes we’ll do discussions and then I’ll say: ‘Should I do this again next year? Is there any value in this?’”
When / why / how did you decide to become a teacher?
“It was one of those things that I think I always sort of knew, but it sort of creeped up on me.
When I was seventeen, I spent the summer as a camp counselor. I loved being with the kids. There was also a lot of learning that went on so as a camp counselor I would teach certain activities and that came really naturally.
Being seventeen I don’t think I really thought about that. Later I was like: ‘I actually really liked that and I could do that for a career.’
I thought seriously about law school. I worked at a law firm for a couple years.
As soon as I arrived at the law firm, within six months I was like this is definitely not what I’m supposed to do. I immediately started taking night classes to get my teaching license.
I had my undergrad in history, so I knew that I loved history and it would be easy to talk to kids about something that you love.”
Have you had classes of students that stood out? Can you describe what made them different?
“The more curiosity that students can bring to my classroom the more I sort of build off of that. When they have questions that they want answered, I just think that’s really cool.
Students who leave the class clearly thinking about it and come back even the next day and are like: ‘Hey I was thinking about that, what about this?’ I love that.”
Can you describe a specific time when you knew you impacted a student?
“After we did the class discussion, I asked the students to write a reflection. I got one student who said that they didn’t think it went well because they had a negative reaction to something that somebody else had said during the discussion.
It bothered me that I didn’t catch that and that that student left the discussion feeling uncomfortable.
I went and found the student and talked to them about it. I’m not a very touchy feely person, but they wanted to give me this big hug and I was just like: ‘Oh wow’.”
“As a social studies teacher, I feel like we try to be unbiased.
I think that teachers have to be careful about what they say to students because I think that maybe they don’t always realize how much influence they have.
I went to a high school where most of my teachers were incredibly liberal and very vocal about that position and I felt like it definitely alienated some students and it also silenced a lot of class discussions.
I’d like to think my students would be like: ‘How did she vote in the election?’ I work really hard at that because I think that’s really important.”
Can you describe what learning looks like in your class, using a specific assignment?
“We had that insane mock jury draw. We used greek democracy to vote on how you wanted your test to look [in the fall]. Which students either love or hate depending on the way the majority rules.
I’m always willing to try crazy things, I think that’s fun for students and hopefully learning happens in between.”
Can you describe something you’ve learned from another teacher?
“He [Ben Heintz] always has really solid advice about like making sure that whatever you ask students to do, they intrinsically find interesting… ‘Tell it to me like it’s a story.’
I ask students to tell a summary or explain something trying to use a story. To paint a picture and explain what exactly happened in a way that’s an engaging tale. I think Ben is really good at that and I know that’s something he tries to use in his classroom a lot.”
Can you tell a story about something unusual that you experienced outside of school? (Recently, or at any time in your life)
“I spend a lot of time in the summer trying to get good at wakeboarding which I’m terrible at. I can get up, I can move in and out of the wake. My friends or my family that I go with will tell me that I’m incredibly annoying to wakeboard with because you know, you always have to have a spotter, someone looking at the back of the boat.
Not only do I not do any cool tricks or anything but I like the boat to go insanely slow. I want to go half the normal speed which is essentially just the boat dragging me through a huge wake of water which people have explained to me is actually way harder.
If we are on a friends new boat, I’ll get back there and then my husband will always be like:
‘So just remember like 12 miles an hour for her.’”