“What can we conclude?”
This is the question longtime Upper School history teacher John Lemma regularly posits to his students, according to colleague David Kangas. “John is the scholarly educator who invites students to view history with a careful eye,” David observes. “The student in John’s class learns that history is a mix of truths, half-truths, myths, narratives, and biases. John engages his students by using multiple viewpoints on significant events in history, helping students capture the origins of these perspectives. He guides them as they sift through the information, dispatching the chaff, and revealing the deeper and more lustrous hues on the canvas of history.”
It’s no wonder John has taken such a thoughtful, well-rounded approach to understanding history, considering that prior to his tenure at CWA he taught internationally—in West Germany, Belgium, and Thailand. “My upbringing instilled a desire to travel and experience other cultures,” says John, who taught in American public schools for 10 years before acting on his travel bug and teaching abroad. “My overseas experience profoundly changed my view of education, privilege, politics, and life.” Bringing that international perspective to CWA, John introduced a new approach to the history curriculum when in 1999 he began utilizing the U.K.’s International General Certificate of Secondary Education’s 20th century world history curriculum in the Upper School. “The reasons to teach 20th century world history from a British point of view were persuasive arguments almost 20 years ago, and they are still good arguments today,” he says.
John has also taught U.S. history, AP U.S. history, and western civilization during his time at CWA. Upper School Head Bill White has noticed one key skill John brings to each of his classes, no matter the subject. “Organization is the first thought that comes to mind when thinking of John,” Bill says. “He prepares his lessons to utilize every minute of his class time. John’s knowledge and depth of understanding of historical concepts is extensive. He is well read and always seeking new knowledge and bringing different perspectives into the classroom.”
John brought his love of history outside the classroom as well. As an advisor for the Upper School Knowledge Bowl team in a tenure his co-advisor David calls “epic,” John led the team to nine state championships, including two 3A titles. “Through countless lunches and thousands of questions, you’d always know when a history question was next; ‘Here’s a worthy question,’ he’d announce,” David says. “He’d often point out the weakness of the question, highlight the gray areas of interpretation, or simply remark how the question could have been asked better. Although winning multiple state championships were grand moments, the lasting memories were always the time spent with students who, like their coach, found joy in knowing—and knowing well.”
And thus we can conclude that it is with heartfelt gratitude that John Lemma is honored with the 2017 Lifetime Teaching Award for his 20 years of invaluable contributions to the Charles Wright community.