Faculty Spotlight: Tyler Hales
By marketing and communications
Middle School history educator Mr. Hales uses the current pandemic as a teachable moment.
Tyler Hales has always believed that there is more to the study of history than memorizing dates and neatly summarizing major events. For Mr. Hales, who literally hails from a family of history teachers, what’s most important about teaching history is analyzing historical events and the impact they have on people, as well as exploring how people shape events.
“It is also critical to shine a light on the people who aren’t talked about in mainstream history and to give a voice to those people,” he says. One of his goals is to open his students’ eyes to the rest of the world, to get them to take off their “American goggles,” so to speak, and look for covert prejudice and biases. He hopes they can use history as a way to better understand the present.
As an educator of United States history post-Civil War, Mr. Hales works with other members of the Middle School team to evaluate the curriculum and make the changes necessary to strengthen the Middle School history curriculum. “Three years ago, the team switched from a linear study of events to a thematic approach,” he shares. “We came up with five main themes—civics, social justice, immigration, innovation and foreign relations—and within them try to teach a historical component and connect that component to the events and attitudes of today.”
Mr. Hales has transitioned this curriculum philosophy to the distance learning sphere—and has even used the current pandemic as a teachable moment for his students. “Through our e-learning, I want to tie our history to current events resulting from this pandemic—and try to get the students to think beyond the current situation,” explains Hales. “We spent the first two weeks of e-learning looking at past pandemics to show that the public health measures happening now, such as social distancing, were being done hundreds of years ago. In essence, we are trying to help kids understand what we’re dealing with today and the historical connections and context.”
How he teaches during this trying time is as important to Mr. Hales as what he teaches. “My approach to e-learning has been not to add to the existing stress the kids are facing and overwhelm them with busywork,” he says. “I try to keep things within the students’ comfort zones rather than try to add a bunch of new things they are not familiar with. I check in with them as much as I can to make sure that the work they’re getting overall is OK and not overdoing things. We have lots of discussions online, just like with our in-person classes.”
While teaching and learning online during a pandemic isn’t ideal, Mr. Hales finds optimism in and gratitude for the strength of the community. “LJCDS is a special place, especially because of the people,” he says. “Our faculty is a tightly bonded group, and our kids are so incredible and resilient; we can learn a lot from them. And the administration has been great in supporting us, coaching us and encouraging us to do things as well as possible during this tough time.”