Hailing from Yorktown, VA, Vena Reed arrived at D-E in 2020 to teach the 6th grade history class called “Creating Cultures.” The course ranges from the beginnings of human history to the rise of ancient civilizations like Greece and Egypt. Teaching a foundational skills course that is an important introduction to Middle School academics is a rewarding, yet challenging, process for Reed.
“The biggest thing with sixth grade is modeling,” she said. “I will teach them a skill like annotating. However, if I’ve determined that they’re not where I thought they were, I go back and do more guiding. It’s about being patient, modeling for them to get to a place where they can do things independently.”
With a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in secondary education from Virginia Commonwealth University, Reed taught the humanities at Success Academy Charter Schools prior to coming to D-E. Having inherited the curriculum from Ben Fleisher, who now teaches in the Upper School, Reed collaborated with her colleagues to introduce resources from the Teachers’ Curriculum Institute to diversify the reading sources available. At the same time, she joined the departmental collaborative effort to continually improve vertical integration between all three divisions, with the “Profile of a D-E Graduate” as a guide.
Reed believes that teaching ancient history requires making creative and accessible connections to the past. Thus, conversations about current events are opportunities to tackle often difficult questions related to the curriculum.
“People get fearful when something is political,” Reed explained. “Politics can be defined as who gets what, when, where, how, and why they get it. If you look at politics through that framework, then sports could be defined as political. The other thing I emphasize is to not make assumptions. I think framing what politics could look like and having different lived experiences in the classroom is exciting and cool rather than scary.”
Reed positions herself as a facilitator of discussions, offering frameworks that enable students to dig into complex issues, ask thoughtful questions, and lead class discussions on their own terms. For students to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, Reed believes they must know that they are cared for. “One thing I learned in grad school is this great quote from Nel Noddings, an educational philosopher, who said, ‘Students don’t care what you know until they know that you care.’” That philosophy grounds Reed’s pedagogy. During the onset of the pandemic, Reed would begin class with a “Question of the Day” to have students get to know one another before getting into class material. Small gestures like that, combined with the class preparation from Reed and other history faculty, create a strong learning community––one that is rooted in care.