From Mongols to Majors: A Day in the Life of a High School History Teacher
Amanda Levy loves teaching about the past — while preparing her scholars for their futures. As a ninth grade World History teacher at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts, she’s used to discussing everything from Mongols to majors with her scholars. Ms. Levy describes herself as a classroom facilitator; even though she loves to talk — especially about history — she makes sure that scholars are driving the conversation.
Ms. Levy has been helping Success scholars become excited about history ever since she joined SA Harlem East as a humanities lead in 2012. She studied history and education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is currently completing a master’s degree in educational leadership at St. Joseph’s University. She spends every day focused on helping her scholars take charge of their own learning, whether in the history classroom or while preparing for college entrance exams.
We caught up with her to see just what it takes to make each lesson memorable — and learned a thing or two about the rise and fall of dynasties along the way!
I find that preparation helps my early mornings go smoothly, just like it does with teaching. I usually plan what I’m going to wear the night before so that I have time to enjoy some coffee when I wake up — essential!
On the 6 train, I sometimes run into scholars who also live in East Harlem and enjoy the chance to chat with them outside of school. But I also usually have a few new emails from scholars each morning, so I make sure I take the time to check my inbox before the day gets going.
I’m a stickler about my classroom being neat. I make sure everything is in order each morning because it’s important to me that my scholars don’t have an excuse to be distracted once they arrive. I’m strict, but having an orderly classroom helps us focus on keeping scholars engaged — and on having fun!
8:30 – 9:15am
Our scholars enjoy listening to the Hawkeye News in Homeroom, which includes announcements and birthday shoutouts. It’s a nice way to get energized for the day ahead. Today was extra important because we reminded everyone about graduation requirements; we wanted it on their radar since finals are approaching.
Today, I had one central goal: Get scholars thinking about the complexities of the Mongol Dynasty and its downfall. I asked them to impersonate different groups that were hostile to the Mongols — from the peasants to nobles — articulating these perspectives based on close readings of primary documents. The discussions were pretty lively!
I teach an AP World prep class, which I find really rewarding. In this class I see my scholars learning an incredible amount of history — while also growing as writers. They start producing essays that are college-ready, and it makes me extremely proud to be a high school teacher. The exam is just around the corner, so today we reviewed the Cold War.
11:33 am – 12:43pm
Our planning meetings help make us a collaborative and tight-knit team. This is when we talk through the lessons for the week ahead — lessons created by our superstar curriculum writer Mark Soriano (right) — and identify the essential ideas we need our scholars to walk away with. We talk through how we can maximize learning and compare notes on where things fell short in the last unit. It’s one of the many benefits of everyone teaching the same lesson at the same time. Today we launched Unit 7: Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Exciting!
I’m on lunch duty every day, which is another chance to chat with scholars outside of the classroom, though admittedly the cafeteria is pretty noisy! I try to take a slightly more relaxing moment to eat my own lunch back in my classroom.
Collaborating with the history team goes beyond our planning meetings; we’re constantly comparing notes, bouncing ideas off each other, and generally pushing each other to the next level. I give a lot of informal feedback because I’m the most tenured teacher on the team. I know that they’ll come to me if they have an issue.
I’m excited that my afternoon class enjoyed the lesson on the Mongol Dynasty as much as the morning group. There are often little adjustments that I need to make based on group dynamics, but the scholars really took their roles seriously and had fun plotting the downfall of the Mongols!
Before I leave for the day, I make sure that the classroom is in order: desks in a row, pencils sharpened, tomorrow’s dates on the whiteboard. I want us to hit the ground running as soon as we arrive the next day! I also make the rounds and chat with deans or other teachers; it’s good to hear how the day went for everyone.
If I’m not tutoring or grading at the end of the day, I make the rounds in the hallways; there are often still plenty of scholars in the building participating in clubs and sports. At home, I like to go for a run before settling down to study — I’m working to get my master’s in educational leadership at St. Joseph’s University.