Rebecca Hanson - Upper School History

What do you love most about your job?
Although RPCS was not my first “real world job,” I’ve spent most of my working life here.  I can honestly say that I have never been bored or felt stuck in my work life.  I truly look forward to teaching every class, every day.  Teaching requires a strange combination of creativity, focus, planning, spontaneity, flexibility, and patience.  I love the energy students bring to the classroom and yes, even when they’re not full of vim and vigor, it’s a fun challenge to get them up and moving intellectually (and sometimes even physically). Every class is like an ever-shifting puzzle. Teaching is hard work, but also a whole lot of fun.
What are specific traits you work to identify and grow in students? 
Although I am passionate about history, I am well aware that it is not everyone’s cup of tea.  I want my students to understand how the past informs the present and make those connections. When we grapple with the thorny questions of the past, such as why our Founders did not abolish slavery in our new republic, we come to know that history is multi-dimensional. It is a human story, and humans are “messy.” So, I urge students not to agonize over memorizing dates and facts, but focus instead on the knots and tangles of our past. Once they engage with the material at a deeper, more complex level the details are easier to remember.
Why did you choose to work in an all-girls education environment?  
Attending a woman’s college was one of the most empowering and life changing adventures of my life. The bonds forged in an all-girls’ school last forever- it was true decades ago when I went to college, and based on what our RPCS alumnae tell us, it is just as true today.
Why did you choose RPCS?
Good Fortune!  I moved to Baltimore to be with my (now) husband. I had taken half a year off to travel around the country and volunteer on a political campaign. I then worked in fundraising for a non-profit for half a year and just as I decided that was definitely NOT my bailiwick, I heard that the RPCS college counseling job was open.  It was June and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Why is education at the grade level you teach important?
Education at every level is important! Currently I teach US history to juniors, who are on the cusp of taking up the reigns of full political participation through voting. Understanding the foundation of our nation’s history is as important today as it has ever been.  We need fully engaged citizens who are independent thinkers and problem solvers. I always tell my students that they are the ones who will take care of me in my old age--- so I have a vested interest in making sure they are ready to tackle the challenges ahead!
"I teach because…it’s my calling!"
What do you want an RPCS education to mean to our graduates? 
I am in the unusual position of teaching the children of people I once taught! I cannot count the number of times alums have said how prepared and grounded they were for college and the world beyond.  Though the content of what we teach here changes and the methods evolve constantly, one thing is consistent: at RPCS we challenge our students, keep expectations high and encourage their growth. It may be a cliché, but RPCS graduates can do just about anything they set their minds to.  They are a fiercely determined bunch of women. I also hope our alums will always call RPCS “home.”
Why did you choose the subject you teach?  
That’s a hard question.  I suppose I grew up in a very old Virginia house with a family full of stories. “Old things” were just part of my everyday life. My freshman year of college I happened to take a seminar on the US in the 1930s which opened the history door to me (my high school history classes were uninspiring). After college, I spent time working in college admissions and ultimately came to RPCS as College Counselor. I was asked to teach one semester of government as a pinch hitter or sorts and then a section of US history to cover a teacher who was on leave. Although I loved college counseling, the lure of digging around in history once again was like a great magnetic field! When a full-time history job opened, I went for it. I’ve never once looked back!
What is your teaching philosophy? 
Have Fun! Create! Teach! Revise! Repeat!  A teacher should model learning; that is hard work, discipline, curiosity, rigor, love of learning….all those good things. Focus not on the finished product, the grade, but on what more you can learn.  Life is a work in progress!
What is your favorite moment in the classroom? 
We do several big debates and historian’s roundtables in my classroom. During these debates, I am a moderator and students must do all the talking. Everyone participates and everyone comes prepared to do so.  The first debate is usually pretty tame, but ultimately these events are just incredibly powerful. When students take full control of their learning and engage deeply, they come alive intellectually.  By the spring semester all I need to do is hit the Start Button and the students are off and running.