Orange Park High School • Orange Park, Florida
Rebecca James has been involved in the educational system (PreK-12) since 1994 either volunteering, substitute teaching, or teaching. She has been a certified teacher for four years, the last two at Orange Park High School in Orange Park, Florida where she currently teaches social studies standard and advanced placement courses and is also the Dean of Students.
When asked what her greatest challenge is in today’s classroom, she does not hesitate. “It’s finding the time,” she says, “to plan relevant, engaging, action-oriented lessons for my students. So many resources exist but finding the time to sift through them and then redesign them for my students is very time consuming.”
This was one of the reasons Rebecca found the Bill of Rights Institute’s free professional development program, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Exploring the History of Free Enterprise in American History” in Jacksonville, Florida in February of 2022 so helpful.
“Each of the lessons shared by the scholar, Dr. James Harrington, and Amy Reece, BRI’s professional development instructor, were ready to go as-is,” said Rebecca, “but could also be manipulated to fit with different teaching styles and student abilities. I liked walking away from this seminar with ready-to-go resources and I was inspired by the creative ideas and suggestions from the other participants.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed the formatting of the seminar,” she added. “Activities and information sessions were evenly paced, entertaining, and thought-provoking. During the activities, participants were able to experience the lessons from a student’s viewpoint–something many of us do not get to do very often!”
Rebecca’s proudest achievement in her many years of teaching was stepping in for a teacher who was dying of cancer, and who had been a mentor to her during her years as a substitute. Though he passed away before the students were able to take their AP exam, she and the students were able to “work together as a team to honor Mr. Will Jones’ commitment and dedication to their education.” The students’ scores that year were the highest ever for that content area of history in the years that it had been offered at the school.
Abraham Lincoln is the figure from American history Rebecca most admires for the way he, “led a nation divided while holding true to his beliefs, and enacted important changes and remains a symbol for liberty today.” Indeed, Rebecca loves to teach all of U.S. history, although mid-19th century is her favorite.
“We can learn so much about where we are headed as a country when we can look back at our past through an objective, yet understanding lens,” Rebecca observes.
“The way to predict our future path is to analyze and critique our growth over time. My goal as an educator is to challenge students to determine where and how we need to change and then motivate them to have the courage to pursue it.”