Read about IB teacher Eirik Harteis

IB History with student-driven discussions

By Emily Burrell, SLHS Math Teacher
September 28, 2017

As the new school year approaches, many educators across the country have found renewed urgency in their search for lessons that build empathy and appreciation for diversity. The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, offered at eight FCPS high schools, aims to build an international mind frame in students, raising compassion through understanding.

Harteis with his studentsEirik Harteis teaches the IB course History of the Americas (HOA) at South Lakes High School. Several times each year his students participate in a Socratic seminar, a student-driven discussion based on a teacher chosen topic. At the end of last year, students discussed the impact of social class, international relations, and economics on the history of the Americas. They prepared their points using research and notes and adjusted their arguments and opinions based on ideas and information shared by peers. Harteis stated, “I like to see the discussion move in unplanned directions. I like it when the circle has a moment of silence as students process and reexamine a statement or assertion. I also like to see students who are quiet in class step out and make meaningful and powerful contributions. It can be exciting learning.”

Student Lauren MacDonald appreciated the international perspective, “This subject was especially important to study because of the amount of time we spent focused on countries other than America … I think it is just as important to learn about other countries, and in this class it was clear that we were learning about them because they were important in their own right, and not just because they could provide us with context that would relate back to American history.”

Student Zahraa Mohammed shared, “I think that HOA helped raise an international mindset by allowing students to approach issues from other nations' points of view; allowing us to gain an international outlook toward the topic discussed. We didn't only think about the United States' position or concern regarding a world problem, we also thought about other nations' concerns regarding that same problem.”

Harteis grew up in a family of eleven children, seven of whom were adopted or foster children. “From an early age, I had to be independent and I dealt with people who did not look like me and who came from different backgrounds. I try to expose my students to the diversity of our community and world and to make them aware of the great resource this can be as they move forward in their lives.”

The IB program at South Lakes is a good match for Harteis’ values and vision for education. He described the program as “education for a better world.” International Baccalaureate states that their programs “strive to develop students who will build a better world through intercultural understanding and respect.” Teachers at South Lakes help build learners who exemplify the ten attributes of the IB Learner Profile, learners who are: Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Risk-takers, Balanced, and Reflective. Harteis says, “I feel challenged to expand my classes to fully address everything that the IB Program lays before us. It is a lifetime of work and it is worthy of pursuit.”

Harteis with his studentsIn the 2016-17 school year, Harteis also taught IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK), a class unique to the IB Program. “In general, it's a class that addresses … the processes by which we come to knowledge and examines the value and the limitations of our understandings,” explains Harteis. “A TOK class examines the ways we know something such as emotion, belief, and reason. We also explore a variety of areas of knowledge such as human sciences, ethics, and—my favorite—history. The Theory of Knowledge class also acts as the hub in the wheel of the IB diploma program. This is the place where we reflect on the connections the students make to the content they are studying…TOK can have a sense of urgency and be enlightening to all who are on the journey. As a teacher, I found that compelling.”

Harteis credits the South Lakes community for motivating his work. “In addition to some excellent colleagues, what gets me out of bed in the morning are the remarkable students at South Lakes High School. Many of them inspire me, encourage me, challenge me, and teach me. It is extremely motivating and enriching to work with young people who are engaged in the learning process. It is meaningful to me to work and to see young people open their eyes to the world and get turned on to learning.”

South Lakes principal Kim Retzer shared, “As an IB school we strive to instill in our students the importance of being open-minded, reflective, principled, caring, and communicative. These traits encourage our students to appreciate each other for who they are as individuals as well as what we stand for as a school community. The IB curriculum—while developing empathy, compassion and understanding—also challenges our students to be problem solvers of both local and global issues.”

Before becoming a teacher, Harteis spent ten years as an organizer for nonprofit organizations that promoted social justice. “It’s there that I came to understand how shortcomings in education have real-world implications. A public that doesn’t know its history well is a public that is not well suited for a democracy. I feel passionate that my students need to be prepared to be fully-empowered citizens in our modern world.”