As our 2016 Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award cycle comes to a close, we are pleased to showcase the final two 2016 Outstanding Teaching Award recipients in this month's Teacher Feature. Meanwhile, stay tuned for the announcement of our 2017 Outstanding Teaching Award winners in May!

Celange Santiso-Black, Gullett Elementary School, Austin

During a school assembly on May 12, 2017, Liz James, coordinator of educational programs at Humanities Texas, will present Celange Santiso-Black with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.

Santiso-Black teaches language arts and Texas history to fourth graders at Gullett Elementary School, where she is also the social studies advocate for the school and a Creative Leadership Initiative member. In her classroom, she emphasizes experiential learning, often prompting her students to read and perform original work, to take part in historical reenactments, and to act out their own interpretations of a novel.

"Celange is well-known at our school for her commitment to bringing creative teaching strategies to our staff and for her efforts to involve students in meaningful learning experiences that broaden their understanding of the world around them," said fellow Gullett Elementary School teacher Gina Hampton. "Her students engage in self-directed research projects that allow them to go beyond the surface-level information provided in textbooks."

In her efforts to get students to step out of their microcosms and into the world around them, Santiso-Black has involved her classes in various service projects and initiatives. At both Gullett Elementary School and her previous school, she has instituted and organized Celebrations Around the World, a school-wide event where students, teachers, parents, and community members rotate through classrooms to explore the holiday celebrations of different cultures around the world.

"I seek to help students develop empathy, compassion, and understanding of what has come before them and what is occurring now in our mutual world," said Santiso-Black. "I am interested in their reactions and realizations as I teach lessons in the humanities."

Natalia Charron, YES Prep West, Houston

In May 2017, Humanities Texas will present Natalia Charron of YES Prep West with an Award for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching.

Charron has taught world history at YES Prep West since she became a teacher four years ago. While pursuing a doctorate in history from Princeton University, she developed an interest in teaching the subject at the secondary level. In the midst of her research, she repeatedly heard complaints from professors that their incoming undergraduate students had very little practice thinking historically. Charron, seeking a solution, set out to create a classroom environment that would encourage high school students to engage with historical content and articulate its relevance.

"If you [walk] into Ms. Charron's classroom, you would be astounded that she is an early-career teacher," said YES Prep West Dean of Instruction Allison Gulamhussein. "I can say with confidence that I have never worked with a teacher who is more humble, innovative, and passionate about the kind of complex and compelling thinking that the humanities aim for than Natalia Charron."

Charron's teaching centers on historiography and historical intervention. She structures her interdisciplinary lessons around a guiding moral question that links different historical events through time. For example, in a lesson exploring democratic structures, her students compare the Roman Republic's transition to Empire, the Enlightenment, and the rise of fascism.

"To meaningfully learn history in this day and age, students must be actively engaged to push beyond merely learning what happened in the past in order to learn how to interpret what we know about what happened," said Charron. "My job, therefore, is to spark genuine student interest in the epic story of the human past and to sustain the kind of engagement that reaps exponential rewards in future learning while generating depth and critical thinking."

Celange Santiso-Black with her students at Gullett Elementary School. Photo by Anne Jarriel.
Santiso-Black reads to her class at Gullett Elementary School. Photo by Anne Jarriel.
Natalia Charron with YES Prep West students.
Charron (center) with YES Prep West students.