The Oregon History Teacher of the year has been announced…and he works at Franklin High School (FHS). Greg Garcia, history and psychology teacher at FHS, was announced to have won The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History award for Oregon in July of 2021. Garcia has taught history for ten years, spending the last seven at FHS. Garcia started teaching history because of his love for science fiction, and he borrowed a lot from the character of Doc Brown from Back to The Future to inspire the way he taught.
Garcia said his original teaching mindset was based on a Doc Brown quote from Back to The Future II about the purpose of exploring history: “The intent here is to gain a clearer perspective of humanity. Our past, our future, the pitfalls, the possibilities, the perils and the promise. Perhaps an answer to that universal question, ‘Why?’”
Since his first years of teaching, Garcia’s perception about his goals as a teacher have changed; he still wants to gain a clearer view of humanity but now it’s about the practical applications as well.
Instead of teaching for the purpose of answering a philosophical question, Garcia now focuses on the practical applications of his class materials in terms of current events, and how to apply lessons learned in his class to what’s happening in the world. This practical approach is one of the reasons Cameron Mitchell, Garcia’s student teacher, feels this award was well deserved.
“In the short time I’ve been in his classroom, it’s obvious that he cares a ton about his students,” says Mitchell. “He wants people to not only learn about social studies, history, and psychology, but he wants to actually show them how it can help them in the real world and give them some potential career aspirations.”
Garcia gave the example of the end of the Trump administration and, in his words, the “colossal failure of history” that accompanied it. “My goal is to try to fix that failure by creating historically, politically, and culturally fluent individuals.”
Garcia considers himself what he calls an “experimental educator”: he builds new methods of conveying information in inventive ways and if they are successful, he keeps the parts that work while improving the parts that don’t. One of these methods is Garcia’s historical theatre. Garcia combines history with acting and gives his students a script and roles to play as a more involved way to learn about historical concepts and figures. Will Sexton (12) finds this method of teaching helpful. He says as both a theatre kid and someone who likes learning in an out-of-the-box way, he finds historical theatre particularly enjoyable.
“[Garcia is] not trying to force [information] in your brain,” Sexton says, “he wants you to let it in willingly.”
Another way Garcia gives students opportunities to apply practical lessons is by making available graduate school-level materials and projects to high school students. Garcia finds practical applications for work done by those students who are looking to go farther with the projects started in class. This is something that Garcia said he never thought would be possible when he first started teaching.
Garcia says that the 2020-21 school year was both the best and worst year of his teaching career. When he started teaching he never thought he would have to try to adapt his lessons to a computer. This, Garcia expressed, was a frustrating year for him, however, “Winning the award made me realize that in the toughest part of my career, there’s still a lot of growth and optimism to be had. And the award serves as an incentive for even more growth.” Garcia says that on one hand, it’s acknowledgement of a lot of hard work and experimenting he’s done and on the other hand, it’s an invitation for him to do more on a wider scale. Garcia hopes to use this award as a form of credibility to back his methods of teaching in order to achieve his goal of other history teachers across the country using his methods as well.
“When people typically think of history, they think of dates and dead people. And that’s usually the biggest stigma of teaching history,” says Garcia. “People don’t see the connection, [to] the present time, people don’t see the value in it.” This is one of the main things that Garcia thinks sets him apart from other kinds of teaching: he doesn’t only focus on the dates and the dead people. Every lesson he teaches has a fun application that connects to whatever they’re studying.
“His creativity sets him apart [from other educators],” says Mitchell. Garcia agrees, “[I do] think I’m the only teacher in the state of Oregon to use Terminator puzzles to teach about wars.”