Matthew “Matt” Schade always knew that teaching was going to be a part of his life. He recently discovered that in his second grade time capsule he had written that he wanted to be a teacher when he grew up. Originally from Philadelphia, Schade had only imagined working in public school until a colleague pointed him toward independent school teaching. Now in his seventh year at D-E, Schade is grateful for the school’s sense of community and its students. “When I tell people I’m a middle school teacher, I get this ‘oh boy’ reaction,” Matt explained. “But I really love middle school kids. To me, they’re young enough where they haven’t fully formulated their worldviews, yet they’re also old enough to really start digging into some complex ideas. I have the best of both worlds in a lot of ways.”
When Schade first began teaching at D-E, he inherited the legacy of former history teacher Betsy Carson. “Creating Connections” centered around key civilizations like Ancient India, China, and West Africa. From that foundation Schade and fellow 7th grade history teacher Pooja Patel decided to shift towards more a nomadic and concept-based curriculum. Drawing upon global case studies, the curriculum centers around such questions as: What are the roots of conflict? How do we define oppression, and how do people resist it? Seventh graders tackle these complex issues over the course of the year through project-based units.
As a capstone learning experience, students learn about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and choose a topic of individual interest to research and present to their classmates. A process of skill building and scaffolding enables students to conduct research on their own. Real examples help ground the concepts students are learning. “So when we discuss exploitation, marginalization, and cultural relativism, what’s key is really giving them those concrete examples to then tie back those ideas to,” Schade explained. “It’s also a matter of repetition because they often won’t digest it the first time, and that’s expected. Once you appropriately scaffold concepts for them, it’s incredible to see them learn.”
When the Syrian refugee crisis was ubiquitous in mainstream media from 2015 to 2017, Schade sought to seize the opportunity to connect history to current events, while also helping students develop leadership skills. Teaming up with 3rd grade teacher Michelle Sussman, the 7th grade history team created a children’s stories project centered around themes of migration and displacement. Students wrote original stories and shared them with Lower School students, embracing the experience of serving as role models to younger students.
Schade is comfortable with the idea that learning at the middle school level is messy and can’t be scripted to the letter. Rather seeking to provide a “perfect” lesson plan, he strives to leave students curious and eager to learn more. “I can nitpick about what didn’t go right here and there, but if I felt like the students were engaged and leave in a great place despite challenging conversations, that is successful day.”