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A Conversation with Brian Sheehy, '09, MAT in History

Brian Sheehy '09, MAT in history, is the 2020 recipient of the prestigious Organization of American Historians Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau Teacher of the Year Award, which is given annually for contributions made by precollegiate teachers to improve history education within the field of American history. 

Brian is the history department coordinator at North Andover High School. He is also the founder and curator of North Andover High Object Base Learning Lab, an interactive mini history museum. An advocate of object based learning, Brian started the history lab as a way to memorialize family heirlooms such as his grandfather’s WWII soldier’s uniform while providing young people with a more tangible way to understand and relate to history. It has since grown to include acquisitions from all across the country. He has been teaching history at North Andover since 2007-2008. 

What do you like about teaching? 

I like that no two days are ever the same. When you go into a classroom you are juggling twenty or more kids, their emotions, their feelings. The lesson plan you go in with is rarely the plan that is executed. Students ask questions and have reactions to the materials that you are presenting which can take a discussion in a completely different direction. There is a spontaneity to teaching that I find exciting. It is also very rewarding to watch your students develop and grow as both students and people. 

Why did you choose Salem State? 

Salem State has a long history and great reputation in teacher education. What I loved about the Master of Arts in Teaching in History program was the way that the faculty encouraged me to be innovative in my approach to teaching. For example, in the methods of teaching history course I was able to explore sports history and American culture. I loved it. Today I teach an experiential course in the history of sports where students not only learn historical origins of a particular sport but actually get to try playing the sport as we move through the course. Like vintage baseball, for example. Like my experience at Salem State, my students are interacting with history, not just reading books about it. It is very deep learning. 

What attributes do you think are needed in order to be an effective teacher? 

I think teachers need to be flexible and be okay with having every day be different. An effective teacher needs to be focused on getting their students somewhere, not getting themselves somewhere. I also think that you need to be passionate about the subject that you are teaching. I love history and this passion inspires my students to want to learn. 

How did your experiences at Salem State prepare you for your field? 

The faculty at Salem State are fantastic and knowledgeable about so many different types of history and approaches to teaching history. Rather than just teaching the mechanics of how to teach, the program emphasized content-based knowledge. This gave me confidence in the classroom right from day one. 

What advice would you give for teachers just starting out, particularly in these days of online learning? 

My advice to teachers just starting out is not to dump too much on your students. Instead, step back and talk to your students and get a sense of where they are. Due to COVID-19 we are currently finishing up the year remotely. This has been stressful, even for more experienced teachers like me. My students have been journaling about their experiences and it has given me such a deeper understanding of who they are. Connect with your students and let them learn at their own pace.

Debra Longo
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