Teacher makes council's honor roll

Her interactive instruction earns her Educator of the Year award from social studies group

Education Beat


Students in Monique Jackson's eighth-grade history class hardly ever sit silently taking notes while she delivers a litany of names and dates. Jackson likes to move around the room, and she likes to make her students figure things out for themselves.

On Thursday, she divided a class into six groups for exercises about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the explorers sent out by Thomas Jefferson to explore the land of the Louisiana Purchase.

"You are going to collect information on your own," Jackson told the students. One group had to figure out why Lewis and Clark took certain items with them, another made a timeline and a third used clues to figure out which 13 states were part of the Louisiana Purchase. A fourth group gathered around a computer in the classroom for a simulated quest activity.

Her efforts were recognized recently when Jackson, 28, was named Educator of the Year by the Maryland Council for Social Studies. She was honored Oct. 21 at a conference for social studies teachers at Hammond High School in Columbia.

Jackson likes to use primary sources when possible, so she also handed out copies of the actual instructions that Jefferson gave the explorers. Each group had six minutes per assignment before moving to the next.

Even when students were moving desks to form their groups, Jackson ensured that the classroom was orderly. When some students asked if they could choose the members of their group, she quickly nixed the idea.

"You're not betrothed to them in marriage," she said.

"She's an excellent teacher," said Shauna Kauffman, assistant principal at the school. "Definitely a leader in the school for instruction. Students love going to her class and often come back years later to visit."

Teaching seems to be in Jackson's DNA. Her mother, Helen Holt, teaches first grade at Mayo Elementary School and has been there more than 30 years. Her dad's sister, Carol Holt, taught third and fourth grade at Belle Grove Elementary School, retiring two years ago.

Jackson's great-aunt Alice Battle was a teacher in the county and then became principal of Shady Side Elementary School. Another great-aunt, Vashti Holt, was a guidance counselor at Annapolis High School. And both her great-great aunt Alice Thomas and her great-grandmother Alice Holt taught in Anne Arundel County during segregation, Jackson said.

But for a while, Jackson, who graduated from Southern High School in 1995, considered becoming a lawyer. She majored in political science at St. Mary's College, yet realized before she graduated that she wanted to be a teacher. She graduated in January 1999 with a history degree and a teaching certificate from St. Mary's and started teaching at Central Middle School on Jan. 29 of that year.

Though she was offered a job in the southern Maryland school where she had done her student teaching, Jackson wanted to return to Anne Arundel County. She applied to the school system and received an invitation to interview at Central.

"I remember the day," said Jackson, sitting in her empty room between classes. The walls were covered with a jumble of posters showing different aspects of American history, and videos about the American West were piled in one corner. "I've always thought I wanted to be a high school teacher, and then I got the phone call to come in here and interview. As I walked in, I just loved this school. As soon as I walked in, everyone was so warm and welcoming."

From the start, Jackson said, she felt like part of a family at the school, which has more than 900 students.

"A lot of my close friends at the school are my mom's age," she said. One co-worker even introduced her to her husband, Kevin Jackson, whom she married in June 2001. He's in the Navy, currently switching from an active-duty assignment in Washington to becoming a member of the reserves, she said.

Jackson teaches eighth-graders about American history from the Revolutionary War to 1877. She tries to connect those events with what's happening in the world today, as with a recent exercise that called for her students to compare George Washington with George W. Bush.

Jackson said she's often struck by the burdens that middle-schoolers face. Several have parents stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said. And last year, some of her students had to cope with the death of a parent.

"I wanted them to feel like, while they were here, they had something that was consistent in their life," she said. "While they're in my room for 86 minutes, I want them to have fun, I want them to learn, and I want them to feel safe."

Sometimes, high-schoolers from the next-door South River High School walk over to talk to Jackson.

"They know that if they need to talk to me about something, I'm here and I can direct them," she said.

Lynn Schwalje, who also teaches eighth-grade history, described Jackson as a "wonderful, supportive colleague." Schwalje, who has been at Central Middle School for nine years, said Jackson is "imaginative, supportive and a pleasure to work with."

Central Middle School held a steak dinner at the Original Steak House Oct. 25 to honor Jackson, as well as Amy Summey, Maryland State Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year, and Susan Brown, state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

"We've been celebrating the three of them," said guidance counselor Michael Norton.

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