By Scot Erin Briggs
If you were a student in Julie Scheib Martin’s class, you might describe her personality as ambitious, fastidious, maybe even perfectionistic. But if you were her student, Martin wouldn’t let you off the hook with surface observations. Martin’s been unstoppable since she graduated as valedictorian in ’01, with a degree in psychology, a minor in history, and her secondary education certification. Having been a teacher for only five years, she developed a curriculum unit on personality that won her the Outstanding Social Studies Teacher of the Year Award for Pennsylvania in 2007.
The unit, which introduces her students to a wide range of thinking on the subject, including Rorschach Inkblots and theories from Freud to B.F. Skinner, is heady stuff for high school students according to Martin. “They like the unit because they can apply it to themselves,” she says. And for Martin, admittedly demanding of her students, that resonance is critical to being a good teacher. “You’ve got to be tough, but you have to be able to relate things to their own lives.”
Martin currently teaches civics to ninth graders, advanced placement U.S. history to juniors, and psychology and sociology, both elective courses offered to juniors and seniors. But for her students, subjects like history and social studies aren’t just about reading dates and names out of a textbook. “She makes history come alive.” That’s how one of Martin’s students described her teacher to her mother.
Julie Scheib Martin ’01 won the Outstanding Social Studies Teacher of the Year Award for Pennsylvania in 2007
“I am very animated in the classroom,” says Martin. She recalls talking about materialism with a class recently. “We were talking about our values, and I told them I’ve tried to avoid getting a new cell phone.” Martin showed them her very large phone and her class cracked up. “My cell phone is ancient, they think it’s funny. I laugh at myself and they think it’s funny.” But most importantly, Martin says, “They get it.”
Martin says she’s modeled her teaching on the example set by her professors at Saint Mary’s. “They made class interesting. They knew their material. They were very willing to help after class if you had questions; they always made time.” Martin says her experience in the Education Program also gave her an advantage. “The Program required us to do many hours of observation. You were assigned a school. You had to observe the classroom weekly. I think it’s good; you get to see if you really want to be a teacher.”
Martin says her professors shaped not only her education but also her life as a whole. “I really like to help people. That’s my passion. Teaching, you definitely do that.” Currently, Martin is pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling at Duquesne University, and is considering a future on that path, but not yet. “I am enjoying teaching and I’m not ready to leave the classroom,” she says.
But whether teaching students or counseling them, Martin says the atmosphere at Saint Mary’s allowed her to develop these interests. “That all-women’s environment encouraged students to be confident, independent, assertive. The small class size encouraged students to participate. It was very conducive to allowing students to share ideas.”