Any history teacher could tell you that even something that happened 14 centuries ago is relevant today. Jason Saltmarsh, new to IDEA’s social studies department his year, knows this well. “I’m explaining our society by going back,” he said. “We look at the foundations of the modern world—politically, geographically, and culturally—starting with the spread of Islam from Saudi Arabia in the seventh century.” Saltmarsh’s students will explore Northern Africa, Asia, and Europe with him as they discover what history means to them now.
Of course Saltmarsh incorporates contemporary issues into his classes, including the recent 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. “These students were just born when September 11 happened,” he explained. So for them even something that seems current to adults is history. Saltmarsh helps his students understand how events like September 11 influence their lives today. “Kids are genuinely interested in these events,” he said.
Saltmarsh came to DC most recently from New Orleans, where he worked as principal of a parochial school, and before that as a social studies and civics teacher in KIPP schools in New Orleans. “I’m happy to be back in the classroom,” he said. “It’s exciting and I like charter schools—the size, the responsiveness, the ambition. It was attractive to come to IDEA and find a team of people similarly ambitious and flexible and dedicated to doing seemingly challenging things.”
Beyond teaching the content of World History I, Saltmarsh is determined to help his students learn what they are capable of achieving. “I see so many kids who have fallen behind, and they need to know that through hard work and dedication they can make really superb gains. I see students making huge strides in character building and academic skill acquisition. I’m helping them break old habits and acclimate to high school culture, where they come into class and get to work right away. Our learning time has greatly increased since the first week.”
“Kids are starting to get the muscle memory of what class looks like and feels like,” Saltmarsh explained. “They are trusting the teacher that if they do these things that might be difficult it’s going to pay off for them. I’m seeing more patience from students.
His students are beginning to understand that their grades matter, and that they have the power to earn good grades if they work for them. “I’ve shared progress reports with kids, and really impressed upon them the point that, if you keep taking steps forward and do what we’re asking, you’re going to succeed. It’s not about inherent intelligence. It’s about a positive and willing attitude and keep walking forward. Trust us—we know that you can do it.”
When he’s not teaching, Saltmarsh enjoys running, reading, cycling, traveling, hanging out with his two toddlers, fishing, and supporting the Celtics, Red Sox, and Patriots.