Skyline Middle School and Middletown resident Bob Lingenfelter takes the boring out of history, and was awarded for his teaching method.
Bob Lingenfelter’s philosophy on teaching is simple – students learn better when they’re interested in the subject.
That’s why the American history and social studies teacher at Skyline Middle School in Wilmington strives to take the boring out of his classroom.
“The first day of school when kids come in my classroom, I ask how many students do not like history and about 80 to 90 percent of students put their hand in the air,” Lingenfelter said. “I promise them before they year’s over, they’re going to love history. On the last day of school I ask how many hate history and not one hand goes up.”
The Middletown reident said he uses a hands-on approach and only teaches out of the textbook when necessary.
For this way of teaching, Lingenfelter was recently named the Delaware History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Preserve America.
“This is by far the greatest award I’ve ever won,” Lingenfelter said. “I was up against every middle and high school teacher in the state. The great thing is the Department of Education decided it.”
He will receive a $1,000 honorarium and is in the running for the National History Teacher of the Year Award this fall. Skyline Middle School’s library will also receive a core archive of history books and materials.
Preston Shockley, education associate for the Delaware Department of Education and state coordinator for the History Teacher of the Year program, said Lingenfelter was selected for the award because of his high-quality teaching practices.
“Bob’s students participate in simulations and hands-on performance tasks that help them envision the impact they can have on the world,” he said. “Individual student needs are met through the use of pre-assessment, differentiated instructional strategies, student choice and post-assessment data analysis.”
He said he’s previously been named Skyline Middle School Teacher of the Year in 2003 and was the Delaware Council for Social Studies Teacher of the year in 2003 and 2007. He has taught at Skyline Middle School for 10 years. He spent three years at Stanton Middle School.
Lingenfelter said before he became a teacher, he was a photographer for Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware), which sparked his interest in history. He worked full time at Zeneca in Newark, now AstraZeneca.
He decided to go to school at Wilmington College (now Wilmington University) and get a teaching degree. He also teaches a course, which he developed, at Wilmington University to show aspiring educators how to be social studies teachers.
Lingenfelter said his students are his energy, his future and his heroes, and it’s his responsibility to keep them engaged in history while they’re in his classroom.
To do that, Lingenfelter has interactive approaches to several units of study.
“For the John F. Kennedy unit, I present five theories of how he was assassinated. I go over his biography right into the assassination and show documentaries,” he said. “The students write a 7-page research paper on the theory they choose and the papers are outstanding. I’m amazed at how they can think at this level.”
Lingenfelter said the students study how a bill becomes a law by selecting something they think needs to be a law, from mandatory school uniforms to banning cell phones while driving, the death penalty and even abortion.
“They have to write papers to persuade me this should be a law,” he said. “They turn the classroom into the Senate and they all become the senators. We debate all the issues in all the bills, we vote on the top two and their bills go to Sen. Carper.”
Lingenfelter said Carper does that as a favor for him, and the senator even writes back to the students about their bills.
“When they’re done with the unit, they know how to research, present, debate and get bills passed,” he said.
Lingenfelter said while he was in school, history wasn’t his best subject, and that’s why he understands the importance of teaching it in an animated way and connecting with students.
He said it’s important for teachers to take in interest in the lives of their students outside of the classroom.
“One history teacher I had was my all time favorite high school teacher. At the time I was a volunteer fireman, and every day he would ask if I had fought any fires,” Lingenfelter said. “If you take an interest in students like that, you can motivate them more and eventually they’ll trust you enough to buy into what you’re teaching them.
“Students can really read people,” he said. “They know who’s there for them. I put my students first.”
Lingenfelter said another way he breaks the monotony is by rearranging the classroom for each unit.
“My room is a museum. It’s got all kinds of American artifacts,” he said. “We change the room around so many times. My students don’t sit in the same seat every day.”
Lingenfelter said he’s also an actor in the classroom. He throws his voice when teaching about people in history.
“If the kids get bored, grades go down,” he said. “You have to get kids involved. When students walk in my room, from beginning to the end, it’s always productive.
“I love teaching. It’s my passion,” Lingenfelter said. “They pay me to do this job, and I’d do it for free.”