Five high school teachers who have had transformative effects on the lives of graduating Northwestern University seniors they once taught will each receive a special award during an honors ceremony (June 16) and commencement (June 17) at Northwestern. Westerville North High School history teacher Ben Hartnell is one of the five.
The educators are the recipients of the sixth annual Northwestern University Distinguished Secondary Teacher Awards. They honor high school teachers who have touched the lives of Northwestern students and carry an award of $2,500 for each teacher and each of their schools.
The awards are co-sponsored by the University’s Associated Student Government and the Office of the President. Eugene Lowe, assistant to Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and senior lecturer in religious studies, chaired the 2016 selection committee. The committee reviews student nominations and teacher portfolios to select finalists, who are interviewed with the assistance of NUIT Academic and Research Technologies.
“It’s inspiring to hear our graduating seniors remember high school teachers who helped shape them into the Northwestern students they are today,” President Schapiro said. “Honoring these high school teachers is one of my favorite parts of commencement.”
The selection committee considered essays from seniors about their former high school teachers as well as portfolios submitted by the nominated teachers that included an explanation of their teaching philosophy and letters of recommendation. The 2016 recipients teach in high schools across the country, including public schools in Cicero, Illinois; Lawndale, California; Sudbury, Massachusetts; Westerville, Ohio, and a private school in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“This wonderful award encourages students to nominate educators who lit a spark within them,” Lowe said. “The participation of these extraordinary educators in the commencement ceremony has quickly become a highly valued tradition."
Weinberg senior Emma Feder fondly recalls Ben Hartnell, her history teacher at Westerville North High School, running through the hallway screaming, “Freedom!” at the top of his lungs while wielding a fake sword and dressed in William Wallace attire a la “Braveheart.”
“Dr. Hartnell’s uniforms are a staple of his classroom experience,” Feder said. “He frequently teaches in full costume to help bring history to life for his students.”
Hartnell, who has been teaching for 15 years, said students need to “buy in” to what you’re essentially “selling” them. “Everything I do, create and wear, I do for my students in my never-ending pursuit of making history feel real,” he said. “I literally try to bring history to life on a daily basis!”
Hartnell also is known for his blue book exams. “Although daunting at first, Dr. Hartnell’s blue book whipped my writing and study skills into shape at a time in my life when I was determining what type of student I wished to become,” Feder said. “His course shaped me not only as a student but also as a person, and I do not believe that I would have developed the same skills and self-motivation had I not spent that time in his classroom.”
Students should always be the focus of teaching, Hartnell stressed. His hands-on approach to teaching – using costumes, reenactments or protests – benefits all types of students regardless of their unique abilities, he said. “This produces students that are excited about education and creates a wonderful atmosphere not only in Room 135, but around the high school and community.”