July 31, 2019
Caleb Sanders, High School Social Studies Teacher

Seeing kids get stuck in the doldrums continues to be a motivating factor for my involvement and love of education. I truly want to help students get their ship moving. The doldrums are areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans where there are no wind or water currents to carry your vessel. It is a metaphor for stagnation and lack of motivation that traps people, including our students. My goals as an educator are to inspire and motivate our kids to move in a direction that will bring them lasting success, even if it just means getting them to paddle with their arms. Don’t wait for the wind—make a decision right now to move your vessel in a direction where your goals are located!

A retirement-aged professor told me that there are some constants that will help you as a teacher despite the revolving door of educational systems and practices. He encouraged me to remember to do the following things: love yourself, love those you teach, and love what you teach. This advice has truly been the most beneficial “program” I have ever been shown in education. It has saved me on multiple occasions and has constantly lit and fueled the fire for teaching that I have had since I was young. Students see that love for our profession and for them, and can be inspired to move their ship. Sometimes we might have to tug a bit, but we can do that with patience and in a caring way.

There have been teachers that have had a huge passion for their subject and have charged my emotions and tugged on my boat by bringing me into the lives of characters from history, novels, and short stories. Those teachers possessed a passion for their subject that made it exciting to learn about even when the subject was less then inspiring. I observed that teaching is an art form full of emotions that truly creates monumental shifts for good or bad in learning. The capability a teacher has to help a learner tap into their natural emotions has been a foundational part of my desire to teach.

Our passion for a subject can really bring out those emotions in students—to laugh, to love, to care, to feel anxious. Human emotions are central to teaching and learning. Students are attached to human emotions more than they are historical concepts and events. They need to feel the anxiety of Lewis and Clark as they reached the top of Lemhi Pass, the embarrassment of Sturgis as Chief Joseph slips through Clarks Fork Canyon, and the gratitude of William Bradford after the first successful year in Plymouth. They must feel invested into the emotion and human perplexities that are a part of history and cultures. Each unit I teach begins with a story, simulation, debate, or mock trial. Everybody, no matter what time period, feels love, pain, sadness, joy, etc.… My job is to help the students feel connected to the characters through these feelings and through the passion I have for the subject. Once they feel connected to these people, then they are hooked. They begin to make historical and social connections now because they matter—not because they have to. The students will evaluate primary and secondary sources, do historical research, write research papers, and read historical texts because some emotion has been pricked and an attachment has been made. These emotions will create increased learning because of the investment they now have to these people from long ago.

As students begin to make predictions, provide evidence, and emotionally invest in concepts and people, I encourage them to paddle a little bit harder—move faster. I want deeper evidence, stronger connections, more passion in all areas, whether it be debating, arguing, proving, or writing. I want students to develop academic strength through working their way out of the doldrums with their own renewed efforts and catch a current heading in a direction that will bring them lasting success. This is what makes teaching a thrilling experience and why I have chosen the best profession to be a part of.

Caleb Sanders

Recognized as a 2015 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award recipient in Wyoming, and as Teacher of the Year by his district, Caleb is also the author of multiple books for Teacher’s Discovery®. He uses mock trials, debates, simulations, and other activities to engage students in lively learning.

View Related Resources at Teacher’s Discovery

Cover image from Winslow Homer’s The Fog Warning/Halibut Fishing

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