Award-winning Liberty history teacher keeps creativity in remote learning
With 16 years in education under her belt, Liberty Middle School history teacher, Michelle Breeden knows this year will be drastically different.
Breeden, who teaches Pre-AP World history and 6th grade modern history, prides herself on creating a classroom that engages students on multiple levels and empowers them to discuss and challenge the norms.
“I pride myself on creating authentic lessons and using empathy as a tool to incite engagement for the students in history,” Breeden said. “To truly empathize with someone, you have to ‘walk in their shoes.’”
And Breeden means this.
When studying World War II rationing, Breeden completely clears out her classroom, tapes down squares on the floor and opens a general store. Students are then grouped into “families” for the week. Each person is given a replica of the ‘40’s rationing book. Students are then expected to purchase everything from paper, pencils, textbooks, to even the chairs if they would like.
“The students must strategize on how to best use rations for their needs, just as families did in the ‘40’s,” Breeden said. “The interesting thing is watching them come together and plan what they need for the week. I even get with the parents to make sure they aren’t providing extra materials from home if something comes up lost.”
It’s a project, Breeden hopes she gets to do with her students this year.
In order to replicate her engaging classroom for remote learning during the current COVID pandemic, Breeden is in adaptation mode. She says she is staying away from reading and worksheets as much as possible, instead asking her students live history.
“Students do not realize it, but they are living history right now. The parallels of the current pandemic and cultural conflicts mirror multiple times in not only American history but also several other places across the world. ” Breeden said. “I am planning to have them complete a semester project collecting their own writing, photos, and experiences and compile them into a primary source history capsule to be shared with the world.”
Breeden also plans to continue connecting her students to local veterans, a fixture in her classroom. She plans on virtual meetings with these veterans to help the material come alive to her students, even though a computer screen.
“The conversations developed from these experiences give students a glimpse into the sacrifices that are made for one’s freedom,” Breeden said.
Her commitment to involving veterans in her classroom, was one of the reasons Breeden was named the Veterans of Foreign Wars local Teacher of the Year for 2020.
“I was blown away and humbled to say the least when hearing I had won the award,” Breeden said. “I am very passionate about not only my content but also about making sure our veterans are shown the appreciation they deserve anyway I can. So to be recognized for my efforts to promote that in my classroom was uplifting.”
Breeden has also been recognized as Liberty Middle School’s Teacher of the Year and received the only TVA grant awarded to a history teacher, both for the 2019-2020 school year. Breeden also obtained her National Board Certification in Early Adolescence Social Studies in 2017.
“The process demands reflection from the teacher while at the same time challenging them to think outside the box and grow,” Breeden said. “I am a much better teacher now than I ever could have been. NBCT truly brings to practice the meaning of being a lifelong learner.”
Being a lifelong learner fits perfectly with Breeden’s adaptation to remote learning. The move to remote learning has not been easy for Breeden, who admits she is not tech-savvy. When school was moved to virtual in March, she hit up the web immediately for guidance from the education tech master through blogs, YouTube and Twitter.
“The process has been like being a first-year teacher all over again—confused, excited, scared, overwhelmed,” Breeden said. “I have had to utilize the ability to ask for help. I have had to dig in and remember patience and priorities.”
Although Breeden can’t show her self-proclaimed “goof-ball” side to her students face to face, she will continue to stick with using new techniques and lesson ideas to engage with her students, thus building personal connections.
“I laugh a lot with my students and I love to connect with them in any way I can,” Breeden said.
Breeden knows this school year will not be easy on teachers, administrators, staff, students or parents, but she knows the community is all in this together.
“I’d like to tell the parents, thank you for trusting me with your students and their education. Thank you for the patience and grace you have shown me as I adapted to meet the new normal and the needs of the students,” Breeden said. “Your words of encouragement, small tokens, and smiles in virtual meetings make each day in this virtual world doable.”