By Katrina Gabrelian
Social studies teacher Eric Christensen was recently awarded Outstanding Rookie Teacher of the Year by the California Council for Social Studies (CCSS). He will be awarded in a ceremony hosted by the CCSS which will take place in February in Orange County.
The award is given to exceptional teachers who have taught for less than five years which is fitting for Christensen’s four year academic career. He was chosen based on his teaching skills and ability to connect with his students in the classroom.
“I try to think of myself as a student in my class. I think to myself, if it is not fun for me as a teacher, will it be fun for the students? Is it interesting, is it relevant?” Christensen said.
In addition to Christensen’s award, he was asked to present a TED Talk about a call to change as to what teachers do in the classroom. The popularity and success of his TED Talk earned him an invitation from the National Council of Social Studies to present the speech in Washington D.C. later this fall.
“When you are willing to embrace change, teachers are able to do impossible things,” Christensen said, summarizing the focus of his TED talk.
Christensen is praised for finding different ways to give students the opportunity to show what they have learned. He applies simple concepts that apply to both economics and the government, and connects them to situations that directly connect to the world and student body.
For example, he compares the Declaration of Independence to a teenage break up letter and allows students to roleplay historical figures such as John Sommers. In addition, he gives students space to express what they learned not only through paper tests and quizzes, but through projects and videos in order to provide a more stimulating understanding.
He says his eighth grade civics teacher Daniel McCarthy is his greatest inspiration for his teaching style.
“He treated us like adults in the classroom and the materials he brought in the class left an impact on the students, making them feel smart, like they were doing something important,” Christensen said.
Christensen’s success comes only after a short term as a social studies teacher. Previously, he worked in commercial real estate, construction, and architecture in Los Angeles. He found the work unfulfilling and decided to follow in his family’s footsteps and become a teacher.
“A lot of people in my family were teachers and it was always background noise. I should have made the decision to become a teacher sooner. It is the hardest job, yet most fulfilling,” Christensen said.
Christensen continues to inspire students in his classrooms along with his co-teacher Straun Joseph. Together, they are able to turn basic economic concepts and government into a fun and engaging class for all students to enjoy.