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Wayne Post
  • Teacher receives DAR’s most distinguished award

  • For Robert Caulkins, being a popular American history teacher is easy when the passion for history lies within. Inspiring a student to find the passion inside himself is a doable challenge. But being named by the Daughter’s of the American Revolution as the New York State Outstanding Teacher of American History for 2012 — that was an unexpected surprise.

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  • For Robert Caulkins, being a popular American history teacher is easy when the passion for history lies within. Inspiring a student to find the passion inside himself is a doable challenge. But being named by the Daughter’s of the American Revolution as the New York State Outstanding Teacher of American History for 2012 — that was an unexpected surprise.
    “It’s very humbling to be recognized by such a prestigious organization that has such a passion for history,” Caulkins said of the honor.
    Caulkins comes from a long line of teachers — his mom, grandmother, aunts and uncles — but if you were to ask him at the age of 18 if he wanted to follow in his families’ footsteps, he would have answered “Not on your life.”
    “Teaching wasn’t what they did, it was who they were,” he said.
    Attending college at SUNY Oswego as a history/political science major, a friend asked Caulkins if he’d be willing to volunteer as a youth coach at the YMCA. He agreed and discovered a new joy in working with children. He switched his major to education with a focus on history — and the rest might be called history. After graduation, he was a temporary substitute teacher in Newark and Gananda before being hired full-time as a seventh grade American history teacher at Gananda Middle School. That was 19 years ago.
    Last Wednesday night, Oct. 24, Caulkins was presented a plaque from the Gananda School Board recognizing his latest achievement. Last year, he was named the “Mission US” Teacher of the Year by WXXI and he was featured on the station for his work with “Mission US”. When members of DAR’s Canandaigua chapter saw the show, they nominated him for their own award. He was presented the DAR  award on Sept. 29 at the NSDAR Annual State Conference in Tarrytown.
    Caulkins says it may be his name on the DAR award, but the recognition belongs to the community of teachers at the Gananda Middle School.
    Teaching today isn’t what it used to be. When Caulkins was in high school, there were no computers and every library had a card catalog. How kids learn today has vastly changed, he added — they are much more visual, very adaptive, more creative and capable of doing more things at one time. As children change, teachers struggle to keep up and find new ways to make learning fun and interesting.
    “That’s good teaching,” Caulkins said. “Taking what’s being done by others and putting your own spin on it. It’s a challenge. It’s about finding a new way to reach the kids.”
    Librarian and Media Specialist Kathy Lepkowski introduced Caulkins to “Mission US”, an interactive adventure game designed to improve students’ understanding of American history in grades 5 through 8. PBS, locally WXXI, is sponsoring the first game in a planned series, beginning with Mission 1: “For Crown or Colony?” which explores the reasons for Revolution through the eyes of both Loyalists and Patriots in 1770 Boston.
    Page 2 of 2 - In the game, students take on the persona of Nathaniel “Nat” Wheeler, the game’s main character. They witness the Boston Massacre and from there each student decides for him or herself what path they will take through history. Where they come out in the end can vary widely from student to student — it all depends on what decisions they make throughout the game. Designed to reach the new age of growing youth, “Mission US” brings the reality of the anger of the time to the forefront.
    “It brings back the tension that existed in the 1700s before the war,” Caulkins explained. “It is a game, but it’s more than a game.”
    Lepkowski has been instrumental in helping Caulkins bring technology into his classroom as he works to make learning history a fun, interactive experience. Together with ELA teacher Amee Campbell, they developed Tavern Talks. Students choose from a selection of Civil War books and complete various assignments for their ELA class as well as their American history class. They also enjoy a library transformed into a Civil War tavern setting where they discuss the books they’re reading.
    Caulkins says technology has helped him put his own new spin on an old topic, but that’s not all of it.
    “The underlying thing is my passion for history,” he said. “It gets them excited. They know I love what I’m teaching.”
    Caulkins lives in Webster with his wife, Gina, and their two children. Besides teaching history, he coaches varsity golf and modified boys basketball.
    “I think of Gananda as my second home,” he said. “Whatever I’ve given, I’ve gotten back two-fold. I believe Gananda is a real hidden gem.”
    Caulkins can’t name just one instance in his career that has touched him — there are many. From something as small as a handshake or a hug, a letter or a spoken “thank you”, Caulkins says when a student tells him he made a difference in his or her life, it means something.
    “That’s why you go into teaching,” he said. “The greatest bonus I got last year — I was invited to a former student’s wedding from 15 years ago. I couldn’t imagine doing another job. I’ve been blessed.”

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