Meet six local teachers who are making a difference
Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Rockville
Eytan Apter doesn’t mind talking with students about hot-button topics. “It sounds weird, but I love living in the discomfort area,” says Apter, a middle school social studies teacher whose doctorate in education focused on teaching controversial issues.
Whether it’s talking about the inequities of the criminal justice system or reconciling Thomas Jefferson’s ideals with the fact that he was a slave owner, the 41-year-old educator at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School believes it’s important to foster civil dialogue. “Too often, students want to debate and ‘win’ without building consensus and understanding why we engage in discussions,” says Apter, who adds that he wants students to develop a voice, but also to handle heated debates.
Shevi Lerner, who was in eighth grade last year and had Apter, says some kids in her class initially felt uncomfortable when they began talking about race. She says Apter helped ease the tension by asking students to write down guidelines for the conversation, listing rules such as: “We assume everyone has the best intentions, even if they say something and don’t know it’s offensive.”
Apter has a knack for helping find common ground amid disagreements and high emotions, says Marc Lindner, associate head of school. “His approach is measured and thoughtful,” he says.
In creating lessons, Apter tries to make the material relevant and interesting. Students in his eighth-grade civics class design a candidate’s election campaign, and they put the Big Bad Wolf on trial in a court simulation.
Apter worked as an investment banker and in the entertainment industry for a few years before becoming a teacher in 2002. “The ‘thrill of the kill’ that we called it in banking is different,” Apter says. “In teaching, it’s when you reach a child, or a parent calls and says, ‘My kid is loving this.’ ”