Written By: Ethan Rampersaud
Photo Credit: Pasco High School
In today’s society, nothing is more important than independent and rational decision making. All decisions, whether large or small, need a certain level of critical thinking in order for them to be efficient and effective. In an academic environment, this skill is used in every class on campus, whether it’s deciding what colors to place on a canvas or formulating the method for solving a difficult math problem. And who better to exemplify this skill than Mr. Rivera? His engaging and efficacious teaching style, along with the positive and uplifting environment in his classroom, prepares students for the challenges ahead, not just for the big test at the end of the year, but for the real world itself.
To begin with, what makes Mr. Rivera excellent in teaching is his passion on the subject of history. This passion comes from his experience with his father, who told him stories of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy families. For Mr. Rivera, not only were these stories educational and entertaining. They allowed him to bond with his father and connect with him through a shared history and tradition. This bonding was what started his appreciation for the subject of American History.
His teaching style has not only helped students ace end of year exams, but it has also given students a better appreciation and understanding for the importance of learning history. Mr. Rivera makes sure all students are engaged and always learning the topic being taught. From discussions on last night’s homework to intense debates, this style ensures that the student will create their own historical perspective, politically, socially, and economically, and be able to synthesize and make judgments through analyzing multiple sides throughout history. Furthermore, Cambridge students apply this skill even more through being able to write scholastically, writing quality papers that demonstrate mastery of the topics covered. Outside of the academic environment, Mr. Rivera sees American History as a way to maintain democracy for generations, as it encourages students to become informed and aware citizens in their society. This is because many of the concepts covered in what he teaches are recurring concepts in today’s history, such as racism, war and the conflict between the social classes. For instance, the occupation of a climatologist in 2018 has historical roots during the Nixon Administration in 1970, when the Environmental Protection Act, or EPA, was passed. The EPA has roots that go back further, to the time of Theodore Roosevelt and the Conservation Movement during the turn of the 20th century. In his class, students can see how the issues of today and yesterday have a shared identity, and the issues we as a country share, past and present.
Finally, what makes Mr. Rivera’s class so valuable is his philosophy he applies in the classroom. He highly emphasizes the importance of students learning by themselves and understanding the curriculum independently. This can be seen in his love for historical figures such as Malcolm X, whose self-educated experience eventually led him to lead the fight for civil rights in the United States. He also creates a positive environment, allowing his students to further appreciate the subject. Every student feels a sense of ownership in his class, as they own their identity and can show who they are as individuals through their political and social views. Furthermore, all his classes go by one name each year, thus providing a sense of group identity and fostering a sense of camaraderie and teamwork not just among an individual class, but with other classes as well. This year’s name, the “Karate Kids,” not only helps inspire students through Joe Esposito’s “You’re The Best Around” during debate time, the meaning of the name also inspires them by encouraging constant training and practice as if it were karate itself. Mr. Rivera believes in a constructivist approach when it comes to teaching students. This means that he works with students in developing their individual perspectives through his activities. This approach allows him to learn along with his students, with the latter sometimes contributing information that he didn’t know before. This two-way communication allows for both students and teachers to improve. While Mr. Rivera believes his subject and learning are important, he also believes it is essential for students to improve themselves emotionally along the way. He wants students to believe in themselves and their abilities, as confidence is a challenge for students in addition to mastering the concepts not just in US History, but all subjects. He also believes students need grit, as there will be adversity and failures that all students inevitably face. When students leave his class, he wants them to have a greater understanding of politics in their country and begin to make a rational judgement based on the political climate around them. He also wants students to achieve that sense of confidence, the belief that they can put their minds to a task and achieve it. At the same time, he wants them to remember the good times and moments that made themselves feel empowered and happy, as he emphasizes celebrating achievement and having a positive attitude above all. This philosophy is part of what makes his class stay with students even beyond high school.
Mr. Rivera shows what it means to be truly dedicated and constructive for his students. His natural passion shows his love for the subject and his continuous curiosity on the topic. He constantly builds his students’ knowledge and perspective on the subject, not only telling them to simply recognize the information, but to think deeper and make their own perspectives on the historical events and ideas shown in the textbook. His ideals show that he truly cares about helping students build their own conclusions and ideas about a topic and not just provide a single perspective for them to accept and follow. It is this building of both intelligence and confidence that makes Mr. Rivera’s class applicable for students wherever they go.