Social Studies Interview Project

Eric Smith

Eric Smith has been a high school social studies teacher in Southern California for 30 years. He is a widely respected teacher and leader in his school district. As a side gig, Eric has worked as public address announcer for multiple professional sports teams in Southern California. He has announced sporting events for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Clippers, and USC Trojans football, among many others. In 2020, Eric was invited to be one of the public address announcers in the NBA "bubble" in Florida, where the NBA players and coaches were quarantined so they could complete their season. 

In this interview we discuss:

  • Bias in Teaching
  • Social Justice

  1. Why does Eric Smith believe it's good for teachers to share their biases in the classroom?
  2. What cautionary advice and qualifications does Eric Smith add to his advice that teachers be open about their biases and beliefs?
  3. Do you think you'll share your personal biases or beliefs with your students? Why or why not?

Shawn Healy and Anthony Pennay

Shawn Healy is the Democracy Program Director at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Through this foundation, Healy has worked with teachers and students across the political spectrum to increase political awareness and engagement. He also teaches courses on political science and public administration as an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago. Prior to this, Shawn was a high school government teacher.

Anthony Pennay is the Chief Learning Officer of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. He leads a team of educators that works with over 40,000 students every year through field trips, programs, and other opportunities. Anthony was the 2012 recipient of the Civic Action Award from the California Council for the Social Studies and served as Chair of the Awards Committee for the National Council for the Social Studies. Prior to his work at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, Anthony taught middle school English and History for 10 years.   

In this interview we discuss:

  • Civics Knowledge
  • Civics Skills
  • Civics Dispositions

  1. What knowledge or skill that was shared do you think is most important for students to learn? Why?
  2. What is the Stockdale Paradox and why is it important in authentic civics instruction?
  3. Below are some of the resources Anthony and Shawn trust. Which one(s) do you think you are most likely to incorporate in your own classroom? Why?
    2. The Flip Side (Links to an external site.)
    3. The New York Times (Links to an external site.)
    4. The Washington Post (Links to an external site.)
    5. Politico Playbook (Links to an external site.)
    6. Stanford History Education Group (SHEG)

David Elian

David Elian is a social studies teacher in Indiana. He serves on his school's resiliency team and works as a mentor in the Young Men of Purpose program. David recently received the Armstrong Teacher Educator Award from Indiana University.

In this interview we discuss:

  • Distance Learning
  • Power of Student Feedback
  • Building Relationships
  • Teaching In a Polarizing Election Cycle

  1. David speaks of the importance of teachers providing a space for students to share their perspectives and also to hear someone else's perspective. One way to think about this, regardless of your content, is the structure of your conversations. In your opinion, which discussion structure is best for enabling this type of interaction in your classroom? Why?
  2. David tells a story of steering a hot conversation on the Zoom chat to something less political. How is redirecting a conversation a way of framing a conversation?
  3. Why is asking for student feedback such a vulnerable act for a teacher? How could you use student feedback in your classroom?

Rebecca Valbuena

Rebecca Valbuena has had a long and distinguished career in public education. Working primarily in Southern California, she has served as an elementary school teacher, teacher on special assignment, academic coach, and university instructor. She has served as an educational consultant with The Autry Museum, Harcourt Publishing, and helped shape the C3 Framework. Her classroom teaching was featured by Linda Levstik and Keith Barton in their book Doing History. She is a past president of the Southern California Social Studies Association. She was named Outstanding Elementary Teacher by the California Council for the Social Studies and Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year.

In this interview we discuss:

  • Habits of Good Teachers
  • Classroom Culture
  • Distance Learning

  1. What separates a good teacher from an excellent teacher?
  2. What can teachers do to create a healthy classroom culture?
  3. How can you build trust with your students, even in an online learning environment?

Monica Brady-Myerov

Monica Brady-Myerov worked as a radio journalist for 25 years before founding Listenwise, an educational learning platform. She was the senior reporter at WBUR in Boston, and her reports have been broadcast to national audiences on NPR and other radio broadcasts. In 2005, she won two Edward R. Murrow awards for reporting on closing the achievement gap in education. In 2009 ,The Education Writers Association awarded her First Prize for her reporting on high school dropout rates. 

In this interview we discuss:

  • Listening as a Core Classroom Skill 
  • How to Teach Current Events and News Literacy
  • Teaching in a polarizing season

  1. Why do we assume students know how to listen? What are some ways you can prompt students to listen closely or to help them share what they hear when they listen to audio sources?
  2. Check out the Common Core State Standards Listening Standards. What are the listening skills required at the grade level you will be teaching? How can audio/visual resources like Listenwise help develop these skills?
  3. Monica emphasizes “process” as a way to address polarizing political issues. How can focusing on the process allow students to safely engage with these divisive subjects?
  4. Here are the news sources Monica trusts. Which one(s) do you think you would be most likely to use with your students? Why?
    1. The Daily - Website 
    2. The Daily - Podcast 
    3. The New York Times 
    4. The Boston Globe 
    5. The New Yorker

Mariah Pol

Mariah Pol is a middle school social studies teacher and social studies department chair in Indiana. In 2019 she was named Indiana History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. She serves as a Teacher Fellow and Ambassador for the Korean War Legacy Foundation. She also mentors new and pre-service teachers.

In this interview we discuss:

  • Distance Learning Advice
  • Social Studies skills to build in the classroom
  • Teaching during the election cycle

  1. What are some ways Mariah offers to get to know your students? Why is it important to making time for this during your class?
  2. What academic skills does Mariah try to build in her classroom that aren’t content-dependent?
  3. Mariah approaches teaching in a polarizing climate by focusing on developing certain skills in her students. What are those skills, and how do you they help facilitate student interaction with polarizing issues?

Dr. Scott Petri

Dr. Scott Petri is a high school social studies teacher in California. He previously served as a high school principal in Los Angeles Unified School District. He is a past president of the Southern California Social Studies Association and current board member of the California Council for the Social Studies. He is a frequent presenter and professional development facilitator at education conferences and school districts. His writings and resources have been published by various outlets and can be found on his website,

In this interview we discus:

  • Distance Learning Advice
  • Reading and Writing in the Social Studies Classroom

  1. How does Scott use robo-readers to offer formative feedback to student writing?
  2. Why do you think reading instruction tend to decrease as text complexity increases? What can be done to remedy that, regardless of your content area?
  3. Examine some of Dr. Petri’s resources below. How can you use this to form instruction or assessment in your classroom?
    1. Petri's website: History Rewriter
    2. Petri's Independent Study Presentation
    3. Petri's Remote Learning Tips
    4. Petri's Automated Writing Feedback Article
    5. UCCI Project
    6. CommonLit 
    7. Listenwise 
    8. Schoology 
    9. History Tunes 
    10. EduProtocols 
    11. EduProtocols Iron Chef Template 
    12. 50 Content Area Strategies for Adolescent Literacy 
    13. More resources from Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey
    14. Heather Marshall's Game of Quotes
  4. One of Scott’s strengths is his ability to strategically utilize a wide variety of educational tools and resources in his classroom? How do you think you can stay connected to the wider field of education so you can constantly add to your own teaching resources?

Matt Scialdone

Matt Scialdone is a high school teacher and English department chair from North Carolina. He has developed two original courses at his public high school in North Carolina: African-American Literature and Hard History. Through these classes, he works to challenge the traditional narratives of state and national history by emphasizing stories that are either omitted or minimized in the curriculum. He was named Beginning Teacher of the Year by his district in 2002 and then Teacher of the Year in 2016.

In this interview we discuss:

  • How to teach hard historical concepts with your students
  • Adapting teaching practices for distance learning
  • Teaching during a polarizing election cycle

  1. What does Matt think is the real reason we don't teach difficult aspects of American history to our students? Explain why this makes these topics more difficult for us to confront.
  2. According to Matt, tough conversations are only traumatic if you don't give students a meaningful, productive outlet for their emotions. Do you think this can be accomplished through a traditional school assignment or does it require a more civics-minded, community service response? What do you think you would assign to help your students channel their energy?
  3. We underestimate the importance of the classroom as a shared space for students to process what they're hearing in current events. How can you create space in your classroom for students to share and hear from each other about what is going on in the world?

Kevin Cline

Kevin Cline is a High School social studies teacher and department chair in Indiana. In 2016 he was named the 2016 National History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He is also a 2012 American Civic Education Teaching Award (ACETA) Recipient. 

In this interview we discuss:

  • Teaching in person during the pandemic
  • Classroom Discussions
  • The Importance of Relationships and Social Skills
  • Election Talk

  1. What are Kevin Cline's ground rules for class discussions? Would you be comfortable structuring your class with only a few ground rules? Why or why not?
  2. What is the difference between teaching kids to think and teaching kids how to think?
  3. How can you give students feedback in the debrief stage of a conversation that addresses important issues in their thinking without telling them how to think about a particular topic?


Alyssa is a second year teacher in Southern California. Her first year in the classroom was disrupted by the pandemic and she is now doing distance learning her second year. She is a great example of the unpredictability of teaching and the versatility that classroom teachers have to develop in order to thrive in this setting.   

In this interview we discuss:

  • Being a new teacher
  • Transitioning to distance learning
  • Teaching during a polarizing election
  • Advice for new teachers

  1. Why does Alyssa think that a passion for your subject area is not enough to be a good teacher?
  2. Alyssa points out that different, unexpected factors can disrupt lesson plans in the moment. What type of planning can you do to increase the flexibility of your lessons?
  3. Why does Alyssa believe teachers should remain neutral in the classroom? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Bruce Lolling

Bruce Lolling is a High School Principal and former social studies teacher from Kansas. He has trained social studies teachers from across the United States as a Staff Developer and eventual Lead Writer through AVID. In 2010 he was awarded the Dayton Rothrock Alumni Fellow Award from his alma mater, McPherson College.

In this interview we discuss:

  • Transitioning to distance learning – best practices
  • Current Events and tough conversations

An administrator’s perspective on getting a job and preparing for the classroom.

  1. One of Bruce's pieces of advice is that you don't have to pretend like you don't have an opinion, but you want to keep them guessing. He suggests you can do this by presenting information for both sides. Bruce is speaking here about framing and curating sources. How can the way you frame questions and curate sources create an unbiased atmosphere in your classroom?
  2. Bruce maintains neutrality in class conversations by showing his students that he can side with them and know where they're coming from. Why do you think validating part of what a student says, even if you don’t agree with their conclusion, is an effective teaching strategy? Does this have anything to do with empathy?
  3. What advice does Bruce offer for how to interview for a teaching job, even if you have minimal classroom experience?

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